Everyone has heard the horror stories of the lives of the ill and infirm being prolonged
indefinitely because of hospital policies or maybe well-wishers who think they are doing the right
thing by keeping their loved one on life support. While everyone has their own personal
preferences, most of us don’t want to linger on as mental vegetables depending on machines to
feed us, make our hearts beat, and even to make us breathe. An advance directive is something
that everyone, regardless of their age and physical condition, should have in place.
What is an advance directive? An advance directive is a means of ensuring your desires are
observed even if you become mentally incompetent. An advance directive is a legal document
that specifies what you want and what you do not want in the event you become incompetent to
make those decisions yourself. An advance directive ensures something else as well. It ensures
that you don’t force your loved ones to make what might be the most difficult decisions of their
lives. Who wants to make the call to take their parent, spouse, or other loved one off life support?
In fact, some hospitals have policies in place that prevent the removal of life support machinery
once it is installed unless an advance directive is in place.
In most states advance directives only go into effect once specific medical criteria are met. With
an advance directive, you can specify particulars, such as whether or not you want to be
resuscitated in the event you go into cardiac arrest. Do you want to be put on dialysis? You can
specify what type of palliative care you would want. Maybe you would be comfortable with the
idea of non-invasive assistance such as a CPAP machine to aid you in breathing but feel just the
opposite about invasive measures such as a ventilator machine that necessitates the placement of
a tube inside your trachea, either through the mouth, the nose, or an incision made in the throat.
How do you feel about organ or tissue donation? Those are the kinds of considerations you need
to make while you are in sound mental health.
Advance directives give you control of your life right up until your last breath. They can even
specify who you want present at your bedside and who you do not. How do you feel about
religion, for example? Do you want a relative or some other designated person implementing
some sort of religious procedure if you get to a certain point in your life? All of those types of
things should be clearly delineated well before you reach the time you really need them.
In short, an advance directive is something we all need to consider. It is something we need to
consider before times ever begin to become difficult and stressed. Unfortunately, every state has
different terminology and different forms that comprise an advance directive. Most hospitals ask
if you have an advance directive in place when you sign in. If not, you can usually complete one
right then. You may, however, be more comfortable having this important document completed
well before the time of a hospital admission. You can download the specific forms you need for
your state online through AARP and various other websites, but it is wise to talk to your
healthcare provider and/or your attorney and let them tell you more about why we all need to
consider this basic legal provision and what must be done to fulfill it.