What would happen if you experienced a medical event that left you unable to speak for yourself? Does your family know your wishes? In the event a patient becomes incapacitated, physicians will generally look to family for direction, but if you haven’t had conversations about advance care planning, your family may not know what to do.
Part of advance care planning is completing advance directives, documents that describe your choices about care and treatment. There are a number of types of advance directives, some relating to health care, some to finances, but they all serve one purpose. They allow you to plan now for events that may occur in the future and give you the opportunity to make your wishes known.
Two types of advance directives relating to health care are a Health Care Power of Attorney and a Living Will. Both help to guide others as to the type of care and treatments you would want.
A Health Care Power of Attorney is a document in which you appoint someone to make health care decisions for you in the event you are no longer able to make them for yourself. When completing a Health Care Power of Attorney you can include specific instructions about what type of treatments or care you do or do not want to receive.
A Living Will, or Declaration to Physicians, is a document which identifies your wishes to refuse certain life-sustaining procedures. Living wills do not designate another person to make decisions on your behalf. They are used in cases where a patient has a terminal condition or is in a vegetative state to inform physicians of your wishes in regard to treatment.
For a Health Care Power of Attorney to go into effect, two physicians (or one physician and one psychologist) must agree that you can no longer make your own health care decisions. Health Care Power of Attorney can go into effect at any time you are incapacitated to the point you can no longer make decisions and is not limited to life-sustaining measures. Living Wills deal only with life-sustaining measures and only go into effect when death is near or you are in a persistent vegetative state.
No one likes to think they will ever experience a health event that renders them unable to speak for themselves, but it happens every day, and not just to the elderly or sick. Unforeseen circumstances can affect people of all ages and health statuses. A car accident, childbirth complication, or illness can come out of nowhere. You will still receive medical care without an advance directive, but it might not be the type of care you want. Having an advance directive gives everyone involved in your care an outline of your wishes to follow.
To learn more about advance directives in the state of Wisconsin, visit the Department of Health Services website.
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