At some point, a medical professional will ask you about advance directives. It may happen during a routine medical visit or in preparation for a hospitalization. It may occur in the emergency room during an unexpected event. You may wonder, what are advance directives? Do I really need them?
Advance directives are binding legal documents. They give directions in writing of your wishes regarding medical treatment for yourself should you be unable to communicate those wishes to a doctor. The current standard of care during an emergency is for emergency medical services (EMS) to attempt everything possible to attempt to save a life. Not everyone wants everything possible to be attempted, however. Advance directives give direction in advance for the measures you want done to you.
There are three primary advance directives every adult should have.
A living will records your wishes regarding the use of life support equipment and procedures to keep you alive if you are terminally ill or irreversibly unconscious. It may also include your desire to donate organs after you die.
Do Not Resuscitate Order or Advance Care Plan
Should your heart stop beating or you stop breathing, medical professionals will try to resuscitate you using cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or a defibrillator. If you do not want to be resuscitated, then a Do Not Resuscitate Order or Advance Care Plan instructs medical professionals not to use medical procedures to try to do so. You can choose which procedures you want used.
Medical Power of Attorney
This document gives someone you name the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf should you be unable to do so. The document is sometimes called a Health Care Surrogate or a Health Care Agent.
Why Are Advance Directives Important?
As long as you are able to speak with a doctor and make your own healthcare decisions, advance directives are not used. However, should an event occur where you are unable to make a decision and communicate it, then an advance directive directs the medical professionals as to what your wishes are.
Having the directives in place takes the burden of decision making off of family members, who may not agree on what should be done. Even if everyone is in agreement, the stress of having to make those decisions is considerable and can be heart-wrenching. Advance directives give everyone peace of mind.
Advance directives also give you control over the quality of your life up to the end. You can be sure your wishes are carried out even if you are unconscious and terminal.
What If I Change My Mind?
Advance directives can be changed at any time. Simply make sure the new directives are placed in your medical file and the previous directives are removed and destroyed.
Do the Advance Directives Apply in All States?
Not necessarily. Each state varies as to what is included. In Arkansas, the Arkansas Department of Health provides information at this website: https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/health-care-decision-forms . For the most up to date information, ask your primary care provider for information or consult an attorney.