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Why you need a health care directive

by Shannon Lee

No one wants to think about the time when they will no longer be here. But that moment is a reality for all of us -- and having a health directive in place can help family and friends handle the inevitable.

Facing the thought of dying can be a very difficult thing. Choosing a health directive to protect your family during that terrible time can offer peace of mind and lessen the worry about end-of-life decisions.

What is an Advance Health Care Directive?

An Advance Health Care Directive is a document that ensures your end-of-life wishes will be carried out. The health directive makes clear your desires for medical treatment, and allows you to appoint someone to make decisions for you when you cannot make them for yourself. Anyone over the age of 18 should have a health directive in place. The directive should be written with a great deal of consideration, and discussed in detail with your doctor.

Health directive issues to consider

Your health directive explains exactly what you want to happen in the event of an emergency or a life-threatening situation. Here are four issues to consider when writing your health directive:

  1. Do you want to receive artificial care, such as respirators, feeding tubes, and the like?
  2. Do you prefer to receive pain relief, even if doing so may hasten your death?
  3. Should you include a DNR, or Do Not Resuscitate Order?
  4. Do you have specific wishes regarding organ donation?

One of the most important parts of your health directive is the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This designation appoints someone to ensure that your end-of-life wishes are carried out. The health care agent you choose is responsible for upholding the contents of your health directive, as well as making other decisions for medical care that are in your best interest.

Be certain to discuss your wishes in detail with the person you choose to be your health care agent. The more they know about what you want, the better the odds are that your end-of-life care requests will be followed.

Health directives vs. the living will

A living will is part of a larger Advance Health Care Directive. The living will stipulates your wishes concerning life support, artificial feeding, and the like. A health directive includes the living will and a Medical Power of Attorney, which means that your wishes should be upheld by someone you appoint to speak for you when you cannot speak for yourself.

A living will might not stand up if challenged in a court of law. However, a health directive prepared by an attorney can ensure that your wishes are protected and carried out. Simply filling out a living will and giving a copy to family and friends isn't enough--a very clear and concise health directive is the only way to be certain that your end-of-life wishes can be understood and honored.