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People are living much longer than ever before with the growth of modern medical science to find new technology to sustain our lives. Should we experience health challenges due to old age or a medical catastrophe, we may find ourselves in a position to have to make decisions as to how we wish to be treated in a variety of medical situations. This situation can present itself, not just in old age, but due to an accident, injury, or illness. Sometime, medical science can improve our chances for survival, but we face the decision about living without a moderate quality of life.
What if you cannot express your preference about the treatment you with to receive if you are unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate your wishes, including at the end of your life, and your family and loved ones will need to make the decision for you. This is exactly why you need to have these written legal documents so that you can ensure that your own preferences for medical treatment are made known.
A Living Will provides written instructions to medical care providers as to how you want to be treated in certain medical circumstances and medical treatments you wish to receive or decline. The Living Will enables you to express your own choices regarding medical treatment if you are unable to provide instructions at the time medical decisions need to be made. You can express if you wish to be given life-sustaining treatments (using medical equipment and techniques) in the event you are terminally ill or seriously injured, to decide in advance whether you wish to be provided food and water via intravenous devices (“feeding tube”) and to give other medical directions that impact your care to extend your live, but which may not cure your condition, for example if you are permanently unconscious and without detectable brain activity.
A Health Care Proxy is a durable power of attorney specifically designed to cover medical treatment. It appoints a trusted individual, such as a family member or close friend, to make medical decisions for you when you are unable to make them for yourself. This most typically occurs because you are unconscious or should your mental state deteriorate to the point where you lost the legal capacity to make your own decisions. In the Proxy, you decide how little or much authority to give your health care agent. It can be for all health care decision or only for certain treatments. Your appointed agent can then make sure that health care providers, such as hospitals, nursing homes, doctors and other health care professionals follow your wishes, and should your medical condition change, your agent can continue to instruct the health care providers to follow your wishes. You can appoint one person and name that person’s successor should your first choice become unavailable.
The Health Care Proxy is significantly different from the Living Will in that it empowers another person (the agent) to make health care decisions if you cannot do so yourself. The Living Will merely expresses your choices for medical treatment. It makes sense to utilize both a Living Will and a Health Care Proxy because there is no way to predict what new medical technologies may be developed in the future, and these new techniques or procedures may not be provided for in your Living Will.
Physicians prefer these documents because they provide a written expression from you as to your medical care and designate the person the physician should consult concerning unanswered medical questions. It permits the physician to know whose direction is to be followed in the event your family disagrees as to what medical treatment you would want.
Without these documents, your immediate family may find it necessary to obtain a court order to deal with your medical situation. With these documents your family will know what decisions you want so they do not have to guess and make hard choices that are likely stressful.
Should you change your mind about your medical treatment and other decisions or your agent, you can destroy the documents and create new ones. You should keep these documents among your important papers and let your close family member or friend know where you keep these documents. You can also provide a copy to your regular physician.
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