What is an advance directive?

It is a written or oral statement about how you want medical decisions made should you not be able to make them yourself and/or it can express your wish to make an anatomical donation after death. Some people make advance directives when they are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Others put their wishes into writing while they are healthy, often as part of their estate planning.

Three types of advance directives are:

  • A Living Will
  • A Health Care Surrogate Designation
  • An Anatomical Donation

You might choose to complete one, two, or all three of these forms.

What is a living will?

It is a written or oral statement of the kind of medical care you want or do not want if you become unable to make your own decisions. It is called a living will because it takes effect while you are still living.

You may wish to speak to your health care provider or attorney to be certain you have completed the living will in a way that your wishes will be understood.

What is a health care surrogate designation?

It is a document naming another person as your representative to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself. You can include instructions about any treatment you want or do not want, similar to a living will. You can also designate an alternate surrogate.

What is an anatomical donation?

It is a document that indicates your wish to donate, at death, all or part of your body. This can be an organ and tissue donation to persons in need, or donation of your body for training of health care workers. You can indicate your choice to be an organ donor by designating it on your driver’s license or state identification card (at your nearest driver’s license office), signing a uniform donor form (seen elsewhere

There are several things to consider in creating an advance directive.

  • Check state laws regarding living wills and durable powers of attorney for health care.
  • Put your wishes in writing and be as specific as possible.
  • Sign and date your advance directive and have it notarized if necessary.
  • Keep a card in your wallet stating that you have an advance directive and where to find it.
  • Give your health care provider a copy for your medical records.
  • If you use a Durable Power Of Attorney for health care, give your proxy a copy also. Discuss your advance directive with family and friends.
  • Give a copy to anyone who might be notified in an emergency.

There are some other special issues you may wish to consider as well.

  • A "Do Not Resuscitate" (DNR) order allows you to refuse attempts to restore heartbeat.
  • Organ donation allows you to donate specific organs or your entire body through your advance directive.

In addition to pain management controls, you may request or refuse a variety of specific medical procedures.