Advance directives are legally-enforceable documents that allow us to express whether we want certain levels of care when we become unable to make those decisions for ourselves. All 50 states and the District of Columbia regulate advance directives by statute.
Authorities agree that there is no difference between withholding lifesaving treatment and withdrawing life-support treatment, which is important, for example, when someone is resuscitated despite his or her wishes because the advance directive couldn't be found and the person is placed on life support. Once the advance directive is made available to healthcare providers, life-support measures can be stopped.
Advance directives are completely optional, but, as noted above, they're enforceable: all healthcare facilities--hospitals, for example--that accept federal funding are required to ask if a patient has one and make available documents that can be executed to put a directive into effect. It's equally important to remember that no doctor or health care provider can force someone to complete an advance directive.
Here are some circumstances that could be considered for an advance directive:
- You want to be sure your voice is heard when you can no longer speak.
- You want to be sure that your wishes are respected and followed if you become unable to make medical decisions for yourself. You want to be sure, for example, that you are not placed on life support machines or receive other life-prolonging treatment if you suffer from a terminal condition., or that if you experience cardiac arrest after you have suffered with a long-term, end-stage medical condition, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or other heroic measures will not be performed.
If you do not have an advance directive, you will receive medical care to the fullest extent appropriate for your condition.