What are “Advance Directives” and Why Are They Important?

What are “Advance Directives” and Why Are They Important?

With growing medical technology, it has become more possible than ever to prolong life. But while some individuals would rather not extend life, others may rather have all that is medically possible to preserve theirs. This is why writing out your advance directives has become increasingly more important. It is encouraged that everyone talk to their family, friends, and doctor to know their options, decide what’s right for them, and to put it in writing.

Advance directives are legal documents that state your last wishes—including health care— should you pass on or become unable to speak to those preferences yourself. They can be personally written statements or state-specific forms (both require a signature, date, and witnesses). It is also recommended to make advance directives a part of your permanent medical record.

Advance Directives fall in two categories:

A Living Will: This specifies the types of health care you would like if you are unable to make your own decisions, whether it is because you fall terminally ill, become permanently unconscious, or are in a vegetative state.

Durable Power of Attorney: This legally assigns an individual the authority of speaking to your last wishes should you be unable to speak for yourself. It can be done through state-specific forms or drawn up personally (the advice of a lawyer is recommended).

Navigating such important decisions can be daunting. But no matter what the age, documenting your wishes today means your family and friends won’t have to make these difficult decisions later. Putting your last wishes in writing gives you the final say—take this newly found knowledge to draw up your advance directives!

Here are some key terms from the American Hospital Association’s Glossary for Advance Directives:

  • CPR: Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation; a medical procedure, often involving external chest compression, administration of drugs, and electric shock, used to restore the heartbeat at the time of a cardiac arrest.
  • DNR: Do Not Resuscitate; a medical order to refrain from CPR if a patient’s heart stops beating
  • Legal Guardian: A person charged (usually by court appointment) with the power and duty of taking care of and managing the property and rights of a person who is incapable of doing so.
  • Palliative Care: Medical interventions intended to alleviate suffering, discomfort, and dysfunction but not to cure (such as pain medication or treatment of an ongoing infection).
  • Terminal Condition: A status of “incurable” or “irreversible” and in which death will occur within a short time. There is no precise, universally accepted definition of “a short time,” but in general it is considered to be less than one year.

For more information, visit theAmerican Hospital Association (PDF).

And for Free State-Specific Advance Directives visit the website everplans.

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