After Terry Schiavo, Americans increasingly want to know how to draw up advance directives—instructions for their care if they become incapacitated and cannot make medical decisions for themselves.
“If you are going to choose one thing to do, it should in most cases be a health care power of attorney,” says James Bernat, M.D. a neurologist and chairman of the ethics program at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. That document gives a person you select the legal right to make decisions for you if you no longer can. It’s important to discuss your preferences with your proxy, and with other family members so they will support the proxy’s decisions.
Living wills are another kind of advance directive, but many experts say they should be used only in conjunction with a health care power of attorney. Living wills often are ineffective because they are too vague or they try to cover every possible medical contingency. Another drawback—many people fail to give their living wills to their doctors.
Each state has legal guidelines for advance directives. To learn more go to:
AARP, www.aarp.org . Click on “Care and Family” and then on “End of Life.”
National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, www.caringinfo.org . You can download your state’s advance directive forms.
U.S. Living Will Registry at www.uslivingwillregistry.com .
The American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging at www.abanet.org/aging . Click on “The Consumer’s Tool Kit for Health Care Decisionmaking Worksheets.”
The Center for Practical Bioethics walks you through the care-planning process with its “Caring Conversations,” in English or Spanish at www.midbio.org/mbc-cc.htm .
AARP Bulletin/May 2005
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