As people age, many may begin thinking about their future medical care. For example, some people may need a nursing home if they become incapacitated. Others must make decisions regarding cancer treatment, hip replacements and so on. As a capable adult, you are responsible for your medical care decisions. However, what would happen if you were in a terrible accident, became suddenly ill or slipped into dementia? What would happen if during this time you lacked the ability to make decisions for yourself? If something serious were to occur while you were not able to speak for yourself, who would speak for you? Many people choose to have an advance medical directive for these reasons.
An advance medical directive (AMD) is a legal document in which a declarant (a person who prepares and signs the AMD) does the following:
- Appoints an agent or agents who will make healthcare decisions on the declarant's behalf if and when the declarant is unable to make his or her own decisions
- States his or her wishes regarding life-sustaining (life-support) procedures in circumstances where the declarant is in a terminal condition, persistent vegetative state or end-stage condition
Your agent will make all the healthcare decisions for you when you cannot. It's important you designate a person who understands your desires, beliefs, values and personality, as well as how you handled medical and other important issues in the past. Your agent should be able to act in your best interest after considering the benefits, burdens and risks of the choices presented by your doctors.
Your advance medical directive makes your wishes and desires regarding the withholding of and/or withdrawing of life-sustaining procedures known. This may relieve your relatives and loved ones from the stress of having to make difficult decisions.
It is highly advisable to prepare your advance medical directive while you are alert and capable of making your wishes and preferences known.