FAQ: Advance Medical Directives

 

What are advance medical directives?

Advance medical directives are written statements in which you provide instructions that describe the kind of medical treatments you would want or not want under particular conditions, and/or in which you choose someone to make medical treatment decisions for you if you become unable to make or communicate those decisions for yourself. The two main types of advance medical directives are living wills and medical powers of attorney. You may change your advance medical directives at any time and even revoke them completely. Your current wishes, provided you are able to express them and are able to understand the consequences of your treatment decisions, take priority over your advance medical directives.

What is a living will?

A living will is a type of advance medical directive in which a person documents his or her wishes about medical treatment should he or she be at the end of life and be unable to make and communicate medical treatment decisions, or should he or she be determined by a court to be incompetent. It may also be called a directive to physicians and family, healthcare declaration, or medical directive.  Remember, a living will only takes effect when the patient is determined by a physician to be terminally or irreversibly ill (as a result of injury or disease, and as defined in law) and the patient lacks decision-making capacity. As long as a terminally or irreversibly ill patient is able to make decisions and communicate with his or her physician, the living will is not active.

What is a medical power of attorney?

A medical power of attorney is a form of advance medical directive that allows a person to appoint someone else to make decisions about the person’s medical treatment if he or she is unable to make and communicate medical treatment decisions, or if he or she is determined by a court to be incompetent. This type of advance medical directive may also be called a healthcare proxy, durable power of attorney for healthcare, or appointment of a healthcare agent. The person appointed may be called a healthcare agent, surrogate, attorney-in-fact, or proxy.