At any age, illness or injury may cause a catastrophic medical condition and the loss of a patient’s ability to make decisions. With “advance directives,” you can provide directions for your own medical care, in advance of a time when such instructions are necessary.
The presence of such documents increases the chances that an individual’s true wishes will be respected. It can mean that expensive and ultimately unnecessary medical costs will be avoided. Legal costs also may be reduced.
Advance directives include:
Living wills. With such a document, doctors and hospitals can be instructed whether or not life-sustaining procedures are desired.
Health care proxies. Also known as a “health care power of attorney,” this document names a person (an “agent”) to act on behalf of someone else (the “principal”), if the principal is unable to make medical decisions and there is a choice between two possible treatments.
Language in this proxy should specifically authorize the release of your medical information to your appointed agent. Otherwise, federal law might limit such release, making it difficult for your agent to make informed decisions.
Organ and tissue donation affidavit. If you wish, you can give permission for your organs and other parts of your body to be removed after death for transplants or for experimental purposes.
Such provisions apply to minors, as well. A parent or legal guardian can act on the youngster’s behalf to see that advance directives are in place. Once a child reaches majority–at age 18, in many states–he is legally an adult, responsible for his own health care. Parents may encourage their children to execute living wills when they come of age but it’s up to the next generation to take action.