Q: What are your rights as a patient when making health care decisions?
A: If you are 18 or older and mentally competent, you have the right to make decisions about your medical treatment. You should talk to your doctor or other health care provider about any treatments or procedures so that you can understand what will be done and why.
You have the right to say yes or no to any treatment recommended by your doctor. If you want to control decisions about your health care even if you become unable to make or to express them yourself, you will need an advance directive.
Q: What is an advance directive?
A: An advance directive is a set of directions you give about the health care you want if you ever lose the ability to make decisions for yourself. There are two ways for you to make a formal advance directive: a living will and a health care power of attorney.
Q: What is a living will?
A: While laws vary by state, generally speaking a living will is a document in which you state your wishes concerning the medical treatment you will receive if you are terminally and incurably sick or in a persistent vegetative state from which you will not recover. You can direct your doctor not to use heroic treatment that would delay death or to stop such treatments if they have been started. You can also direct your doctor not to begin or to stop giving food and water through a tube.
Q: What is a health care power of attorney?
A: While laws vary by state, generally speaking a health care power of attorney is the person you name to make medical care decisions for you if you later become unable to decide yourself. This person is called your “health care agent.” In the same document in which you designate your health care agent, you can specify which medical treatments you would or would not want so that your agent knows what choices you would make.
Q: How should I choose a health care agent?
A: You should choose someone you trust and discuss your wishes with that person before committing this decision in writing.
Q: Do I need an attorney to create my advance directive?
A: No. Advance directives can be created without a lawyer, for free and with relative ease. One of the simplest ways to do this is by completing the Five Wishes document, which is available from many health care providers including Liberty HomeCare & Hospice Services.
Designed as a living will, Five Wishes lets your family and doctors know:
* Who you want to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them
* The kind of medical treatment you do or don’t want
* How comfortable you want to be
* How you want people to treat you
* What you want your loved ones to know
Q: When does an advance directive go into effect?
A: A living will goes into effect when your condition is deemed terminal or you are in a persistent vegetative state. The powers granted by your health care power of attorney go into effect when your doctor states in writing that you are not able to make or to make known your health care choices. When you make a health care power of attorney, you can name the doctor you would want to make this decision.
Q: What happens if I change my mind?
A: Your advance directive can be changed at any time. You can cancel your living will either by destroying all the copies or by informing your doctor that you want to cancel it. You can change your health care power of attorney by signing another one or by telling your doctor and each health care agent you named of the change.
You should review both your living will and health care power of attorney on a regular basis as well as after any major life change such as the death of a loved one, a divorce or the diagnosis of a serious medical condition, as these events can lead to changes in your preferences.
Q: Where should I keep my advance directive?
A: Keep a copy in a safe place where your family members can get to it. Give copies to your family, your doctor or other health care provider, your health care agent and any close friends who might be asked about your care should you become unable to make decisions.
Q: What happens if I don’t have an advance directive?
A: If you become unable to make your own decisions and you have no living will or health care power of attorney, your doctor or health care provider will consult with someone close to you about your care.