Nobody wants to think about what will happen to them if they become sick, incapacitated, or die. However, advanced care planning is an important part of life. An accident, injury, or unexpected diagnosis can cause people to need to use their health care directives. Without one, it is possible that your wishes won’t be honored. Here are some things to know about health care directives and the reasons why it is important to have one.
What are Health Care Directives?
A health care directive is a legal document that outlines what you want medical providers to do in the event that you become incapacitated or are unable to let doctors know what you want. It is also called an advance directive. Health care directives only become active when needed, but the decisions need to be made in advance of anything happening.
Health Care Directives are Important at Any Age
There’s this myth that persists that it’s only important for seniors to have a health care directive. However, this is not true. An accident or a cancer diagnosis can occur at any age. It doesn’t matter what pre-existing conditions you have or how old you are. If you are seriously injured in a car accident in your 20s without a health care directive, you may not be able to speak to doctors about what steps you would want to take, especially about end-of-life care.
The 1990 Patient Self-Determination Act (PSDA)
According to the American Cancer Society, the PSDA requires healthcare facilities to provide patients with information about related state laws regarding care decisions, and to ask about and recognize the patient’s wishes. While it is ultimately your decision on whether or not to have a health care directive. However, one of its goals is to encourage you to decide about the types of health care you want when you are unable to speak for yourself.
Important Health Care Directive Decisions
There are many different decisions that your estate planning lawyer may walk you through when it comes to creating a health care directive.
The most common scenarios include:
Do you want to be resuscitated if your heart stops? What measures are you comfortable with doctors taking to revive you? Depending on the patient’s health care condition and prognosis, some people opt to sign a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate order) to prevent resuscitation attempts from happening to prolong pain and suffering.
Do you want doctors and nurses to administer artificial nutrition by tube feeding in the event that you aren’t able to eat on your own?
Hydration is one of the most important aspects of life. During end-of-life decisions, it can temporarily extend your life. If you are unable to drink water on your own, do you want healthcare providers to use artificial hydration?
Use of a Ventilator
A ventilator helps you breathe in the event that you cannot breathe on your own. For emergency or acute use of a ventilator, you would be sedated. For long-term use, a doctor would perform a tracheotomy to be able to insert the tube through a hole in the neck to be able to use a ventilator without sedation.
Palliative care and comfort measures are important considerations for end-of-life care. Palliative care aims to provide comfort and alleviate pain over the use of aggressive treatments. This can include the use of emotional counseling, pain management medications, anxiety medications, and treating constipation. You can decide if you want to limit medical testing, as well as make preferences for staying at home or going to a hospice facility if that is needed.
Use of Life Support Measures
If you aren’t conscious, you won’t be able to consent to the use of life support measures. What steps or actions are you comfortable with in terms of life support? Sometimes, patients experience brain death before their bodies pass. In the event this occurs, a health care directive outlines what steps you’re comfortable with. There isn’t a right or a wrong answer, but what happens next should align with your personal values and wishes. An advance directive ensures that these wishes are honored.
Contact a Chicago Estate Planning Attorney
If you want to set up a health care directive, work with a Chicago estate planning attorney who can guide you through the process. James C. Provenza is an Illinois estate planning attorney with 20 years of experience in law. Call James C. Provenza & Associates today at (847) 729-3939 to schedule a consultation with a member of our team or use our online contact form.