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What are advance health care directives and why are they important?

Advance health care directives

Advance health care directives are legal documents that outline your medical care choices and other end-of-life issues in the event that you become incapacitated or otherwise are unable to make decisions. They not only help ensure that your wishes are carried out if you lose your decision-making abilities, but they also reduce stress and disputes among family members.

What are advance health care directives?

Advance health care directives are written documents that specify your preferences regarding health care should you become unable to make decisions due to illness or injury.

“An ‘advance directive’ is a legal document through which you may provide your directions or express your preferences concerning your health care and/or to appoint someone to act on your behalf. Physicians and others use them when you are unable to make or communicate your decisions about your medical treatment,” provides Yale University.

What types of advance health care directives are available?

Each state has its own laws regarding end-of-life care, advanced directives, and other health care issues. Connecticut for example, recognizes several types of advance health care directives, each serving a slightly different purpose:

  • An Appointment of a Health Care Representative – allows you to appoint a person, such as a spouse, family member, or trusted friend, to make health care decisions for you in the event you become unable to make your own decisions.
  • A Living Will or Health Care Instructions – allows you to specify your choices for medical care at end-of-life, i.e., life support-related wishes. Living wills only takes effect when you are terminally ill and no longer actively take part in decisions for your own life.
  • A Document of Anatomical Gift – allows you to detail your organ donation preferences.
  • The Designation of a Conservator of a Person – allows you to designate a “conservator,” a person responsible for taking care of your health and safety needs and other personal affairs.

Why are the benefits of advance health care directives?

No one is impervious to illness or injury. Everyone aged 18 and older should consider obtaining advance health care directives. These important documents are not just for the aged or sick. All too often, motorcycle accidents and other tragic incidents render young adults incapacitated and leave family members with the added burden of making difficult medical decisions for their young loved one in the midst of shock and grief. It is far better to be prepared and save your family unnecessary stress.

Advance health care directives serve several important purposes. They:

  • Help you avoid unwanted, medical procedures and outcomes;
  • Ease the burden of making difficult decisions off of your loved ones; and
  • Help avoid disputes amongst family members.

Siamak N. Nabili, MD, MPH explains on MedicineNet.com: “By having previously documented personal wishes and preferences, the family’s and physicians’ immense decision-making burden is lightened. At the same time, patient autonomy and dignity are preserved by tailoring medical care based on one’s own choices regardless of mental or physical capacity.”

To discuss your end-of-life plans with an Advance Care Planner, contact Your End of Life Doula at 203-689-7004.

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