Advance Directives: Why You Should Put Your Wishes in Writing
WebMD Live Events Transcript
The Terri Schiavo case in Florida has brought national attention to the importance of clearly documenting and communicating your wishes for medical care if you become unable to make these decisions for yourself. Everyone - regardless of age or health status - should take the time to make their wishes known. Tom Swanson, PhD, from VistaCare hospice, joined us on March 30, 2005 to answer your questions about advance care planning.
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That's where documents related to advanced directives become so important. Because the documents really allows you to make a legal statement about your wishes regarding medical care if you should become unable to make these decisions for yourself. It's also extremely important that, regardless of age or health status currently, you make these written documentations now rather than wait until perhaps it's too late.
All three documents let you give very clear instructions about the medical care you want to receive in the event that you become unable to speak for yourself because of a serious illness or being incapacitated.
These are important because they're not only a legal document for the courts and the state you live in, but they also communicate clearly your wishes to your family, physician and other medical personnel that you may encounter during health care crisis.
Advanced directives are important because they help insure that the patient's wishes are honored, they prevent or minimize conflict between family members during a difficult and emotional time, and they can ease the burden for family members who have to make decisions on behalf of the patient. When making those decisions, they will know rather than having to guess or end up feeling guilty, because they know that this is what the patient and their loved one really wanted.
A living will asks an individual what their preferences would be should they find themselves in a life-limiting illness or perhaps find themselves in a persistent vegetative state.
It's important that a living will be completed by a patient while they have the capacity to do so, which is another reason why it's important to complete a living will before a crisis occurs. Capacity can be defined by the ability to comprehend information, contemplate options, evaluate risks and consequences, and communicate decisions.
Sometimes a doctor may not have the actual living will in the medical chart, so in the absence of a hard copy, they won't necessarily accept somebody's verbal acknowledgement of that. If you have a hard copy, it's unlikely a physician would override that, but certainly that can happen.