Advance Directives

Talk to your loved ones

It may be difficult to begin the conversation, but everyone can benefit from sharing their wishes with those who are closest to them. Here are some suggestions for starting the discussion:

  • News stories - Have you ever seen a news story about someone who was seriously hurt and on life support? What was your reaction? What do the people who are closest to you think?
  • Experiences - Has anyone close to you become so ill that others had to make decisions about their medical treatment? How did that affect what you might want for yourself and your family?
  • Quality of life - What makes life worth living for you? Is there a condition that you would find "worse than death?"
  • Your medical condition - If you have an illness, do you understand how it might change over time? Has your doctor talked about possible complications that would lead to your family having to make medical choices for you?

Talk to your doctor

For people who have serious illnesses, your doctor can be a guide to what complications could arise, and what medical treatments could be offered. With your doctor's guidance, you may be able to give some specific instructions to your healthcare agent about your wishes. Some good questions to start with are:

  • How serious might this illness get?
  • What symptoms can I expect if things worsen?
  • How can these symptoms be controlled?
  • What kind of help will I possibly need in the future?

Think about what results you would want from your medical care

It is important to think about what you want your medical treatments to do for you, rather than naming the specific treatments. When you and your family know your goals, your doctors can work with you to find treatments that can help you reach those goals. By working with your doctors, you can set goals that are realistic for your condition and make a plan.

Your Advance Directive is the plan for end-of-life care. If you are healthy, chances are that your Advance Directive will only be needed if you had an unexpected illness (like a stroke) or injury (like a brain injury). In these situations, doctors do everything possible to save your life and treat you in the hospital in hopes of a full recovery. If recovery does not seem likely after the initial treatments and you remain unable to interact with people, your healthcare agent will need to know how you would want them to proceed.

Bob's story

Bob was always a fighter. He was sure that he would beat the cancer that he was diagnosed with last year. He talked about his treatment goals with his doctor, and made it clear that his goal was to recover. However, when the last round of chemotherapy did not work, he knew he had to readjust his goal. He decided to live as long as possible, as long as he could still enjoy time with his family. On his Advance Directive, he wrote that he would want life prolonging treatments as long as he could visit with his family, and if that became impossible that he would not want further aggressive treatment.

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