Mower Co. Senior CenterIt pays to talk about medical directives
As the population ages and diseases like Alzheimer’s result in people becoming incapacitated, unable to make end of life decisions as to what kind of care they should receive at the end of their life, the idea of living wills has become more important. A living will is a legal document in which patients instruct health care providers about their wishes with respect to medical procedures should they become incapacitated. The legal will is an advanced medical directive that is mandated by federal law.
An advanced medical directive is a legal directive to ensure that a patient’s wishes are followed with respect to a number of different medical procedures in their final days. It ensures that a patient’s right of consent and medical choice are preserved even when the patients can no longer choose for themselves what kind of medical interventions they would like to undergo.
In 1990, realizing the importance of patient treatment wishes at the end of life, Congress enacted the Patient Self-determination Act, a federal law that makes sure that patients admitted to nursing homes, home health agencies, HMOs and hospices are informed of their rights under state law to prepare advanced health care directives and have the documents entered into their medical record, although each state has different requirements for living wills.
It is important to research medical directives before an accident or illness makes that impossible. Two other types of medical directives besides living wills are medical power of attorney and do not resuscitate orders. The medical power of attorney is a legal document designating a person to make medical decisions on a patient’s behalf in the event they are able to do so. This person can interpret your wishes when there are unexpected developments that aren’t addressed by your living will or the language in the will is vague or ambiguous.
Another advanced medical directive is the do not resuscitate order, which is simply the request not to have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops or you stop breathing. A DNR order can be put in your medical chart by your doctor.
The living will can be a very broad or narrow document, according to the wishes of the patient. It is the patient’s declaration or written statement of what they would like to occur in the event of a serious illness, and it is primarily directed to medical personnel. It includes the desires of the patient regarding such medical procedures as blood transfusions, CPR, dialysis, use of a respirator and surgery. It can also include issues of pain medication, food and water, although in some states, such as California, food and water are considered life-prolonging, and therefore might be under the rights of the patient to refuse.
The drawbacks of a living will were outlined under the medical power of attorney. The language can be difficult to interpret or the will simply cannot predict every situation which might arise. This is why it is important that you have an advocate who knows about living wills and the laws in your states, such as an attorney, although there are many Web sites on the Internet that provide the resources for you without the benefit of an attorney.
Mainly when you are putting together your living will, it is important to talk to your physician and your family so that there is no confusion over your wishes, your family has less to worry about during a very stressful and disconcerting time, and you will get the kind of treatment at the end of your life that you desire and you deserve.
Anyone looking for further information can contact the Advocacy program at the Mower County Senior Center, 433-3462.
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Sara Schafer is the director of the Mower County Senior Center.