Everyone has heard the horror stories of the lives of the ill and infirm being prolonged indefinitely because of hospital policies or maybe well-wishers who think they are doing the right thing by keeping their loved one on life support. While everyone has their own personal preferences, most of us don’t want to linger on as mental vegetables depending on machines to feed us, make our hearts beat, and even to make us breathe. An advance directive is something that everyone, regardless of their age and physical condition, should have in place.
What is an advance directive? An advance directive is a means of ensuring your desires are observed even if you become mentally incapacitated. An advance directive is a legal document that specifies what you want and what you do not want in the event you become unabled to make those decisions yourself. An advance directive ensures something else as well. It ensures that you don’t force your loved ones to make what might be the most difficult decisions of their lives. Who wants to make the call to take their parent, spouse, or other loved one off life support? In fact, some hospitals have policies in place that prevent the removal of life support machinery once it is installed unless an advance directive is in place.
In most states advance directives only go into effect once specific medical criteria are met. With an advance directive, you can specify particulars, such as whether or not you want to be resuscitated in the event you go into cardiac arrest. Do you want to be put on dialysis? You can specify what type of palliative care you would want. Maybe you would be comfortable with the idea of non-invasive assistance such as a CPAP machine to aid you in breathing but feel just the
opposite about invasive measures such as a ventilator machine that necessitates the placement of a tube inside your trachea, either through the mouth, the nose, or an incision made in the throat. How do you feel about organ or tissue donation? Those are the kinds of considerations you need to make while you are in sound mental health.
Advance directives give you control of your life right up until your last breath. They can even specify who you want present at your bedside and who you do not. How do you feel about religion, for example? Do you want a relative or some other designated person implementing some sort of religious procedure if you get to a certain point in your life? All of those types of things should be clearly delineated well before you reach the time you really need them.
In short, an advance directive is something we all need to consider. It is something we need to consider before times ever begin to become difficult and stressed. Unfortunately, every state has different terminology and different forms that comprise an advance directive. Most hospitals ask if you have an advance directive in place when you sign in. If not, you can usually complete one right then. You may, however, be more comfortable having this important document completed
well before the time of a hospital admission. You can download the specific forms you need for your state online through AARP and various other websites, but it is wise to talk to your healthcare provider and/or your attorney and let them tell you more about why we all need to consider this basic legal provision and what must be done to fulfill it.