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The knowledge and technology utilized by today’s medical professionals has advanced immensely in recent years. Nowadays, machines are able to sustain life longer than ever before, but questions remain about what quality of life you wish to have. The answers to these questions, and the decisions to be made are very personal in nature. Accordingly, they should be left to each individual to decide. These medical situations often follow a traumatic injury, an accident, or a battle with illness. Unfortunately, those who find themselves in these circumstances may no longer be able to speak on their own behalf, so how can they make their wishes known?
The answer is Advance Directives, such as a living will and a health care proxy. These are legal documents that an individual can put in place to express what their health care wishes are in the event that they cannot speak for themselves.
What is a living will? It is a legal document in which an individual can specify what medical treatments they would or would not want used to keep them alive in certain medical situations in which they are no longer able to express informed consent (i.e. resuscitation, tube feeding, heart and lung machines, pain management, and organ donation).
A living will does not impact an individual’s last will and testament. Further, it is important to know that a living will does not impact your everyday health care decisions about treatment either; it will only take effect when you are unable speak for yourself, and medical treatment may prolong your life for a limited period of time.
A health care proxy is a legal document that appoints a person you trust to express your wishes and make medical decisions for you when you are unable to do so. This decision should not be taking lightly, this individual will have the legal authority to speak on your behalf regarding medical decisions, which could include prolonging or ending your life.
Although not required, it is still important to have an experienced attorney’s assistance when preparing these documents. The laws are intricate, and each state has varying requirements regarding Advance Directives; an attorney can help you understand the requirements and ensure that your wishes are carried out.