How to Get the Medical Care That You Want When You are Unable to Communicate

Many people have specific ideas about the medical care that they want to receive if they become ill or injured. However, at the time an illness or injury strikes a person may not be able to communicate those ideas to his or her physicians or loved ones. This can not only be frustrating but also life changing. Therefore, most states recognize the legal validity of advance medical directives that can guide a medical team to make the decisions that the patient wants them to make despite the patient’s inability to communicate his or her wishes.
Documents that can legally provide this type of guidance and communication include living wills, medical powers of attorney, advanced health care directives and do not resuscitate (DNR) orders. Each of these documents serves a different purpose, such as:
·         Livings Wills: a living will specifies what kind of medical treatment you want or do not want. For example, you may refuse mechanical breathing or tube feeding if accepting either would only prolong your inevitable demise.
·         Medical Powers of Attorney: a medical power of attorney allows a person to name a health care agent who can make medical decisions for that person should the person become unable to do so himself.
·         DNR Orders: a do not resuscitate order prevents medical staff from using CPR or other life saving measures to extend a person’s life for only a short time. Each state has its own requirements about how to properly enact a DNR and a DNR that is not properly executed will be void. Medical staff who are unsure of a DNR’s validity are directed to act as if the DNR does not exist.
·         Advanced Health Care Directives: in some states an advanced health care directive combines the information contained in a living will, medical power of attorney and DNR order into one document.  
Before you draft any of these documents you should consider what you want to accomplish by having these documents. Specifically, you should consider:
·         Whom you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated and a decision needs to be made that cannot be made by relying on your living will;
·         Whether you want extraordinary measures used to extend your life;
·         Whether you want to continue living on life support indefinitely; and
·         Any other issues that are of importance to you regarding your medical care.
In order to have autonomy and control over your life it is important to be able to communicate your desires regarding medical care even when you are physically unable to do so. Living wills, medical powers of attorney, DNR orders and advanced health care directives allow people to do just that. However, people drafting and executing these documents should be aware of all of the formalities and necessary contents required in their jurisdiction before finalizing these documents. If the state requirements are not met then the medical staff will disregard your wishes because they must always err on the side of life saving measures in the absence of clear direction otherwise. Therefore, it is important to draft your living will, medical power of attorney, DNR order and advanced health care directive carefully and to execute it legally so that your wishes will be honored should the situation arise.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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