You have the right and responsibility to take an active part in decisions about your medical care, including decisions to accept or refuse medical treatment. You also have the right to prepare what is known as an "advance directive" about your future care.
Because life changing situations can happen at any age, all adults ages 18 and older are encouraged to have advance directives completed in writing and copies distributed to the appropriate people. Many are familiar with the Karen Ann Quinlan story of a 30 year old woman who slipped into a coma, was put on life support for a year, taken off, but continued living in an unresponsive state for nine years. This is just one example of a situation where advance directives would have been helpful.
A living will is a document in which you give instructions, in advance, regarding the types of medical treatment you do or do not want to receive if you become unable to make your own decisions.
A medical power of attorney allows you to appoint a person you trust and who is authorized to make medical decisions on your behalf about your care, custody and medical treatment. Your represenative will only make health care decisions for you if you beome unable to do so.
Talking about end-of-life decisions can be difficult so we tend to put off completing Advance Directives. What's important to realize is by documenting your future healthcare decisions you're actually helping yourself and giving a gift to your family by not putting them in a position to make these difficult decisions during an already emotional time.
The process of completing your Advance Directives is not difficult, but does require some thought and some conversation with your family. One valuable resource to assist you is Five Wishes. Five Wishes is the first living will that talks about your personal, emotional, and spiritual needs as well as your medical wishes. Five Wishes becomes a document which leads an individual in identifying how he/she wishes to be cared for in the event of a terminal illness or if the person is unable to make health care decisions. Learn more by going to their web site: www.agingwithdignity.org.
Other valuable resources: