As modern medicine advances, it becomes increasingly possible to prolong life in cases where death may have been inevitable in the past. While this is certainly cause for celebration, it can also present troubling ethical dilemmas. When a patient is faced with a life or death decision, who should make the call? Advanced directives provide a solution.
What are advanced directives?
Advanced directives refer to legal documents that outline an individual’s medical preferences in the event that they are unable to communicate them themselves. These directives can include information about whether or not a patient would like to receive life-sustaining treatment in critical situations, such as being attached to a ventilator or feeding tube. They can also provide guidelines on other medical decisions, like palliative care or organ donation.
Why are advanced directives important?
Making life and death decisions can be a difficult task for both the patient and their loved ones. Advanced directives can alleviate some of this stress by providing guidelines and clarity when it comes to medical choices. Additionally, without an advanced directive in place, the patient’s family and medical team may struggle to make decisions that are true to the patient’s wishes.
How to create an advanced directive
Creating an advanced directive is a personal and individual process. It’s important to complete this document with a clear and level head, while also taking into account personal values and beliefs. There are different types of advanced directives, including living wills and durable power of attorney for health care.
A living will is a document that outlines the patient’s medical preferences and decisions about life-prolonging procedures. It covers a range of topics, from the use of antibiotics to the use of artificial nutrition and hydration.
Durable power of attorney for health care allows a person to appoint someone else to make medical decisions on their behalf in case they are unable to do so themselves. This person, known as a healthcare proxy, will have access to the patient’s living will and any other relevant medical information.
It’s important to choose a healthcare proxy that understands and respects the patient’s medical preferences and values. It’s also important to have open and honest conversations with loved ones about the contents of the living will and any other medical preferences.
Life and death decisions are never easy. Advanced directives can provide guidance and clarity when faced with difficult choices. By outlining medical preferences and appointing a healthcare proxy, patients can ensure that their medical wishes are respected in the event that they are unable to make decisions themselves. While creating an advanced directive is a deeply personal decision, it’s an important tool that can provide peace of mind for both the patient and their loved ones.