Living Wills vs. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions
An Advance Medical Directive provides guidance to medical professionals if you are incapacitated and cannot make your own medical decisions. Currently, there are two primary documents which fall into this category: Living Wills and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decision (DPAHCD). The DPAHCD is preferred for the following reasons:
- A vague statement saying a physician may withhold or withdraw treatment if you are terminally ill
- A piece of paper that medical professionals may ignore or misinterpret
- Gives blanket authority to a doctor you may or may not know, a serious concern in these days of managed care
- Generally exempts doctors from liability, regardless of medical surrogate’s directions
- Does not guarantee your wishes will be carried out
- Presumes non-treatment, regardless of medical situation
- Allows “treatment” to be defined by state law (In many states, assisted nutrition and hydration are considered medical treatment)
Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions (DPAHCD)
- Appoints a surrogate to make your medical decisions (applies in any crisis, regardless of prognosis)
- Names a person who will be your advocate
- Gives authority to a loved one who knows your wishes
- Legally clarifies surrogate
- Generally exempts doctors from liability if following decisions
- May include an addendum outlining your specific wishes to hold your surrogate accountable
- Defers to surrogate and written wishes
Other Information to Consider
The Patient Self Determination Act of 1990 requires health care facilities receiving federal funds to ask patients upon admission if they have or want to sign an Advance Medical Directive. However, the time to consider and sign such a document is before you are hospitalized, ill or injured.
The existence of a medical treatment or technology does not obligate you to utilize it. There is a “time to die” and let nature take its course when medicine cannot reverse the dying process.
The first living will was devised in 1967 by members of the Euthanasia Society of America, now known as Choice in Dying.
In recent years, living wills have been increasingly used to justify the removal of life-sustaining treatment (ventilators, tube feeding, etc.) for patients who are disabled but not terminally ill.
On the other hand, DPAHCD specifies what you really want.
If you sign a DPAHCD, consider adding an addendum or letter to your surrogate outlining your wishes in specific situations. This may include when you would desire tube feeding, the use of a ventilator and CPR, as well as your views regarding the beginning, withholding and/or withdrawing of medical treatment.
This may also include your wishes regarding where you want to die (hospital, nursing home, at home) and whether you want your age, physical condition, finances or other circumstances to play a role in decision-making.
Always name a successor in case your surrogate is deceased or cannot be reached by medical professionals.
Update your document on a regular basis to ensure it reflects your current wishes and desires.
Copies of your Advance Medical Directive should be provided to your family, physician and local hospital.
No document can replace open and honest communication with your family and friends before a time of crisis.
Good Alternative to Living Wills
Millions of horrified Americans watched as Terri Schiavo was intentionally and cruelly killed by dehydration and starvation. During the weeks our nation was captivated by this unfolding tragedy, one particularly dangerous message was being stressed over and over again.
A huge percentage of the media, as well as good-intentioned individuals and organizations, was telling the public to get a living will. This, they said, would prevent future emotional turmoil for families involved in similar situations.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
No Living Will in existence could begin to cover the myriad of possible future medical problems you or a loved-one may face. Quite the contrary, many are written from a quality of life ethic, meaning your value as a human being diminishes as your inability to contribute to society increases.
Many living wills assume a desire by the patient to withdraw nutrition and hydration under a wide array of circumstances.
This means you would be at a greater risk of dying in the same painful way that Terri did. Ironically, in Florida, you couldnt do that to a dog and get away with it, but the courts consider it acceptable medical treatment for certain patients.
A positive alternative to living wills is a Durable Power of Attorney, also called a Will to Live. By signing this document, you place possible future decisions for your medical treatment in the hands of someone you trust in the event you are incapacitated.
It will help safeguard against the Michael Schiavos who may have conflicts of interest when determining your care.
A Durable Power of Attorney will also protect you and your family from doctors or other medical professionals who hold a quality of life ethic.
Go to the following link at National Right to Life Committee to download your free copy: http://www.nrlc.org/euthanasia/willtolive/index.html. Please encourage others to do the same. The life you protect may be your own. [Life Issues Connector, July 2005, www.lifeissues.org; http://www.lifeissues.org/connector/display.asp?page=05july.htm]
[This website does not endorse these products, but offers them for the readers to peruse and make their own decisions.]