You have the right to make decisions about your health care. This includes the right to accept or refuse medical or surgical treatment. You also have the right to plan and direct the types of health care you may receive in the future if you become unable to express your wishes. You can do this by making an advance direction.
Q. What is an advance directive?
A. An advance directive expresses, in writing, your choices about the treatments you do or do not want. It also explains how healthcare decisions will be made for you if you become incapacitated and cannot express your wishes. An advance directive expresses your personal wishes and is based on your beliefs and values. When you make an advance directive, you will consider issues like dying, living as long as possible, being kept alive on machines, being independent, and the quality of life you want.
Q. Who can make an advance directive?
A. Anyone age 18 years and older and of "sound mind" can make an advance directive.
Q. Why should I make an advance directive?
A. An advance directive speaks for you when you are unable to do so. Because it tells others the care and treatments you do or do not want and/or who will make healthcare decisions for you, it may relieve your family from the burden of guessing what you would want when you cannot express your wishes.
Q. How do I make an advance directive?
A. There are two ways to make a formal advance directive:
- Complete a living will document.
- Complete a power of attorney for healthcare document.
These forms may be available from your doctor, can be obtained from the Division of Health or the Social Services Department here at the hospital.
You do not need a lawyer to complete these forms. However, two people (not related to you) must witness your signature to these forms. The forms describe who may or may not be a witness. Your healthcare agent(s) may not witness the forms.
Q. What is a living will?
A. A living will informs your doctor that you want to die naturally if you develop an illness or injury that cannot be cured. It tells the doctor that, when you are near death or in a vegetative state, he or she should not use life-prolonging measures which postpone, but do not prevent, death. A living will allows you to refuse treatments or machines that keep your heart, lungs, or kidneys functioning when they are unable to function on their own. A living will goes into effect only when two doctors agree in writing that you are either near death and are unable to understand or express your healthcare choices, or are in a vegetative state that cannot be reversed.
Q. What is a power of attorney for healthcare?
A. A power of attorney for healthcare is a form in which you appoint another person (a "heathcare agent(s)") to make healthcare decisions for you if you are not capable of making them for yourself. When you complete this form, you give authority to your healthcare agent(s) to make healthcare decisions for you, such as whether or not you should have an operation, receive certain medications, or be placed on life support. In some areas of healthcare, your healthcare agent is not allowed to make decisions for you unless you give him or her specific authority when you complete the form. These areas are listed on the form.
Q. Should I have both a living will and a power of attorney for healthcare?
A. It is not necessary to have both. If you do have both documents, you should make sure they don't conflict. If they do conflict, a healthcare provider will follow the instructions of a power of attorney for healthcare.
Q. What if I change my mind?
A. You can cancel or replace a living will or a power of attorney for healthcare at any time. How you can do this is explained on the living will and power of attorney for healthcare form.
Q. Does my healthcare provider have to follow my advance directives?
A. Some healthcare providers and doctors may have policies or beliefs that prohibit them from honoring certain advance directives. It is important to discuss your advance directives with your providers to make them aware of your wishes and to determine if they will honor your advance directives. If they won't, you may want to choose another healthcare provider. Because your healthcare agent will make decisions for you based on what he or she knows about you and thinks is best for you, it is important to choose someone who knows you well and to discuss your treatment preferences with him or her. You can also include specific instructions about type of treatments you want or do not want (such as surgery or tube feedings) when you complete this form.
Q. What is the difference between a living will and a power of attorney?
A. A living will goes into effect only when your death is very near or when you are in a vegetative state and have no cognitive abilities. It deals only with the use or non-use of life-prolonging measures. A power of attorney for healthcare also goes into effect when you can no longer make healthcare decisions, but you do not have to be close to death or in a vegetative state. The power of attorney for healthcare allows another person to speak for you and make healthcare decisions for you that are not limited to artificial life support. The type of decisions this person can make depends of the extent of authority you give when you complete the form.
Q.What happens if I don't make an advance directive?
A. You will receive medical care if you do not make an advance directive. However, there is a greater chance that you will not receive the types of care and treatments you want if you have not made an advance directive. If you cannot speak for yourself and have not made an advance directive, a doctor will generally look to your family, friends or clergy for decisions about your healthcare. If the doctor or healthcare facility is unsure, or if your family is in agreement about decisions, they may ask the courts to appoint a person (guardian) who will make decisions for you.
Q. Where should I keep my advance directive?
A. You should keep your advance directive in a safe place where you and others can easily find it. Do not keep it in a safe deposit box. You should make sure your family members and your lawyer, if you have one, know that you have made an advance directive and its location. You should also ask your doctor to make your advance directive part of the hospital's permanent record.
Q. I have some questions. Who can answer them or give me additional help?
A. Your doctor or other healthcare providers can help you understand your healthcare needs and options for treating those needs. They can also answer questions about advance directives. You can also contact your lawyer or the following agencies if you have questions about advance directives:
Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services
Elder Law Care / Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups
For more information contact:
Langlade Hospital Social Services
at ext. 313 or 314 or 790