Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney – Who Needs Them and Why Are They Important?

An Informative Guide About Accessing and Using Advance Directive Forms

A living will be a legal document providing vital information for loved ones and health care workers about what kind of medical care you would want if you weren’t able to speak for yourself. It is your voice; a record of your end-of-life wishes to give guidance for those who care for you in your final days. Who should complete a living will? All adults should. There is no way to know when the information might be needed. In fact, the landmark court case prompting the creation of advance directives involved health care decisions for a previously vibrant healthy 21-year-old woman. Karen Ann Quinlan was rushed to a hospital in a coma after room-mates found she wasn’t breathing. Karen Ann quickly advanced to what doctors termed a “vegetative state”. After arduous court battles her father was appointed as her health care surrogate and life support was removed at his request. To everyone’s surprise, Karen Ann lived another nine years without the respirator, but never regained consciousness and died of pneumonia in a nursing home.

April 16th, the day after Karen Ann Quinlan collapsed, is designated National Health Care Decisions Day. Health care facilities often highlight advance directives each April, but free forms are available in hospitals and at physicians’ offices year-round. Advance directive forms for living wills and medical power of Newport beach personal injury attorney designations specific to each state can be found online.

It is vital to discuss your living will with everyone concerned about your health care. The living will should include a written statement discussing your values and end-of-life wishes. Your family physician is a great source of information about health care options. Copies of your living will should be provided to your physician and close friends/relatives for easy accessibility.

A living will outline your desires regarding end-of-life care, but for day-to-day decisions there is something even more essential: a medical power of attorney. This is simply a person close to you who knows your thoughts about living and dying and has a clear picture of what health care measures you would choose if you were able. Decisions include not only whether or not to utilize heroic life-saving measures such as a respirator, but also whether or not to accept interventions such as entering a rehab facility or undergoing a risky surgery that may prolong life……or cause needless suffering. A medical power of attorney is your personal health care advocate, a spokesperson to look out for your health care needs. In some states assuming that someone who is “next of kin”, such as a spouse, can make decisions for you, isn’t sufficient, especially for elective care like hospice services. If you became incapacitated a physician or court would appoint a health care surrogate.

Talking about end-of-life health care is uncomfortable for many people, but creating a living will and designating a medical power of attorney is an empowering and considerate act of love towards your family. Planning ahead of time helps everyone concerned to experience death as a natural part of life. These documents enable you to live life on your terms to the very end.

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