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Advance Directives

An Advance Directive is used to tell your doctor and family what kind of medical care you want if you are too sick or hurt to talk or make decisions. If you do not have one, certain members of your family will have to decide in your care.

Once you decide on the care you want or do not want, talk to your family. Explain why you want the care you decided on. Find out if they are willing to let your wishes be carried out.

May I Decide What Kind of Medical Treatment I Want?

If you are 19 years of age or older, or if you are married and reasonably alert and mentally capable of understanding the consequences of your decisions, then Alabama law protects your right to choose the kinds of medical treatment and procedures you will receive.

How Can I Make My Wishes Known?

So long as you are conscious and reasonably alert, you may tell your physician and other healthcare workers what your wishes are.  You may also put your wishes in writing, trough an Advanced Directive, to insure that your wishes are known should you be unable to communicate them.

What is an Advance Directive?

An Advance Directive could be a Living Will, or a durable power of attorney for healthcare.  Either document allows you to give directions about your future medical care.  Advance Directives can protect your right to accept or refuse medical treatment if you ever become mentally or physically unable to choose or communicate you wishes.

What is a Living Will?

A Living Will is a document in which you can stipulate the kind of life-prolonging medical care you want if you become terminally ill and unable to make your own decisions.  They are called Living Wills because they take effect while the person is still alive.

A Living Will should be signed, dated, and witnessed by two people, preferably individuals who know you well, but are not related to you and are not your potential heirs or your healthcare providers.  Although you do not need a lawyer to draw up your Living Will, you may wish to discuss it with an attorney and leave a copy with the family lawyer.

In 1981, the Alabama Legislature enacted the Natural Death Act, which includes a form that you may use as a written declaration, or Living Will.  It is a fairly simple, fill-in-the-blanks form that is valid whether or not you are conscious and alert.  The form, however, does not cover all of the life-saving, life-sustaining treatments that could be offered.  See your attorney for a copy of them.

What is Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care?

The durable power of attorney for healthcare is another kind of Advance Directive:  a signed, dated, and witnessed document naming another person to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself.  You can include any instructions about any treatment you want or wish to avoid, such as surgery or artificial feeding.  Your attorney will need to assist you if you want to designate another person to make decisions in this way.  Obviously, you should make sure that the person you select is willing to act for you and understands what your wishes are.

How Can I Know in Advance Which Procedures I Would Want or Not Want to Prolong My Life?

Although it isn't possible to specify every possible procedure under every possible circumstance, it is possible to decide what kind of treatment you would want in most situations.  You should talk with your physician about the kinds of procedures that are often used when illness is severe and recovery unlikely.  Generally, you should consider what is important to you and what conditions would make your life intolerable.

What If I Change My Mind After I Fill Out My Advance Directive?

You may change or revoke these documents at any time.  Any alterations and any written revocation should be signed and dated and given to your family, physician, and other appropriate people.  Even without an official written change, your oral expressed direction to your physician generally has priority over any statement made in a living will or power of attorney as long as you are able to decide for yourself and can communicate your wishes.

Why Is There So Much Interest In Advance Directives?

Questions about medical care at the end of life are of great concern today, partly because of the growing ability of medical technology, to prolong life and partly because of highly publicized legal cases involving comatose patients whose families wanted to withdraw treatment.  Many people want to avoid extending personal and family suffering by prolonging the life of a patient in the vegetative state.

What Happens If I Am Unconscious and I Have Not Given Anyone Instructions In Advance?

Your closest relatives would make this decision for you, after consulting with your physician.  If you do not have relatives nearby, your physician, or a special committee working at this facility may make the decision.  Since the decision that others may make on your behalf may or may not be the same decision you would make if you were able, it is in your best interests to decide now what you would want and use one of the methods discussed earlier to let others  know what you want.

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