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A health care directive is a legal document that details one's treatment preferences for medical personnel to follow in case of incapacity or any other reason. Planning for end-of-life care becomes even more crucial as we age or experience serious illnesses.

Health care directives are legal papers that let you tell others about your medical treatment choices when you cannot communicate. Here, we will examine the importance of healthcare directives in end-of-life care planning, the different types of healthcare directives, how they are made, and tips on how to ensure that your medical treatment preferences are respected.

How to Create a Health Care Directive

Creating a health care directive involves several important steps to ensure that it is legally valid and accurately reflects an individual's medical treatment preferences. The following are the steps:

  1. Educate Yourself. Learn about health care directives, including their varieties and legal requirements. Understand what statutory schemes and rules in your jurisdiction apply to living wills.
  2. Consider Your Medical Treatment Preferences. Think over your philosophy, faith, and wellness options. Consider how you would want different types of medical care as you approach the end of your life: life support measures, pain management, etc., as well as personal beliefs, religion or culture practices, and quality of life concerns, should be taken into consideration when making choices concerning therapy.
  3. Choose the Best Form of Health Care Directive. Select the appropriate health care directive that best matches your medical treatment preferences given your wishes and legal requirements in your country or state; this may be a living will, durable power of attorney for health care, DNR orders, POLST, or even a combination of all these documents.
  4. Speak to a Lawyer or Health Care Professional. You should seek advice from an experienced lawyer or healthcare professional to ensure that your healthcare directive is legally binding and accurately addresses your medical treatment wishes. To help you understand what you should do, they would enlighten you on legal prerequisites and implications of decisions taken, as well as get it done properly and signed off.
  5. Communicate Your Directions on Health Care Services. After creating a health care directive document, you must communicate with close family members, designated surrogate decision maker(s), agents/attorneys-in-fact, and any healthcare providers who might be involved in providing you with care while at home or a facility such as a hospital. Provide them with copies of the said document and explain what type of medical treatments are acceptable to you. Ensure easy access.

Importance of Health Care Directives

The importance of health care directives in end-of-life care planning cannot be overemphasized. They give people control over their decisions on medical treatment and allow them to have their way when they can’t talk.

Health care directives give peace of mind to both individuals and their families, knowing that their wishes regarding their medical treatment will be followed and not ignored. They also help ease the burden on family members who may be forced to make difficult medical decisions on behalf of a loved one.

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Types of Health Care Directives

There are several types of healthcare documents through which individuals can express themselves about healthcare preferences. The most common ones include:

  • Living Will: A living will is a written record stating an individual’s wants for a future life, including some treatments they would like to get at the end stage, such as life-supporting measures.
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: A durable power of attorney for health care designates a person who makes decisions about someone’s body while they become unfit for this work. Such personal representatives, known as “health proxies” or “agents,” make choices regarding therapy based on the patient’s desires and values.
  • Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order: A DNR order shows that one doesn’t wish to receive CPR in case of cardiac or respiratory arrest.
  • POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment): This medical order represents an individual’s choice regarding life-sustaining measures such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), intubation, and other interventions applicable mainly among people with severe health conditions or those suffering from terminal diseases.

Considerations When Preparing Your Health Care Directive

A health care directive protects how one’s medical choices should be followed up. Nevertheless, other considerations must be addressed so as not to hinder its implementation:

  • Review and Update Your Health Care Directive. Make sure that you review your document periodically and revise it whenever necessary, especially if there are changes in your personal beliefs about life-sustaining therapies, alternate therapy options for terminal illnesses, and other medications used for managing chronic diseases among others since these factors can also influence how someone wants their end-of-life managed once they become incompetent due to medication reactions.
  • Distribute Copies to Relevant People. Family members need a copy, while others include designated surrogate decision maker(s), agents/attorneys-in-fact whether they have been appointed under the Medical Treatment Act (2003) or Health Care Consent Act (1996), and health care providers. Be sure to keep copies of your healthcare directive, including folder files, on your computer; remember that you should also give a copy to the individual who is looking after your interests in a medical emergency.
  • Communicate Your Preferences. When talking about your advance medical directive with family members, agents/attorneys-in-fact, and any other involved medical personnel in hospitals or homes, be as clear as possible so that they will understand what treatments are off-limits for you. Ensure that these people comprehend what you want and any concerns they have are addressed. This way, such wishes could be followed when necessary.
  • Talk to Your Health Care Providers about Your Medical Treatment Preferences. You need to have an open conversation with your healthcare provider about how you would like to be treated in case of terminal illness. Share this document with them so that they understand it well enough and agree to act according to its specifications. This may include end-of-life care decisions, pain management options, and palliative therapies, among others which must be explained further if need be.
  • Educate Your Loved Ones and Health Care Proxy. Instruct and inform close family members about the provisions contained in your written expression of choices on healthcare services considering their own possibilities therein. Have copies shared among those nearest to you and get them enlightened by answering their queries or providing requisite information needed from time to time on this subject matter.

Key Terms for Health Care Directives

  • Health Care Directive: A legal paper that describes what kind of treatments someone wants if they cannot communicate about it themselves.
  • Living Will: A type of health care directive that specifies the type of medical care an individual would like to receive or not receive in different end-of-life situations.
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: This is a legally binding agreement that allows another person to make decisions relating to healthcare on behalf and in the best interests of the patient who made their wishes known when they were able to do so but have since lost capacity through mental illness, accident or injury.
  • DNR Order: Also known as the “Do Not Resuscitate” order, this directive indicates a preference against receiving CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) or any other form of life-saving measure should the heart stop beating.
  • POLST: An acronym for "Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment," a medical document that translates an individual's medical treatment preferences into actionable orders for health care providers in case of a medical emergency.

Final Thoughts on Health Care Directives

End-of-life care planning includes health care directives that help individuals communicate how they want their medical treatment and ensure their wishes are honored. Thus, knowing about health care directives’ importance, selecting a suitable one, crafting it accurately and unambiguously as well as communicating your preference will enable you to take proactive steps towards ensuring your EOLP.

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ContractsCounsel is not a law firm, and this post should not be considered and does not contain legal advice. To ensure the information and advice in this post are correct, sufficient, and appropriate for your situation, please consult a licensed attorney. Also, using or accessing ContractsCounsel's site does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and ContractsCounsel.


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