Advanced Medical Directive

An advance medical directive allows an individual to make decisions regarding their medical care prior to becoming ill. Individuals may choose aggressive care, comfort care, or choose to opt-out of care altogether.  Therefore, if you are unable to consent to treatment because of an incapacity to understand the risks, purposes, alternative treatments, or benefits of treatment, your advance medical directive will advise doctors of what treatment, if any, you want to receive.

Benefits Of An Advance Medical Directive

The advance medical directive will determine medical care in the event you are incapable of making the decision yourself.  It may include a “do not resuscitate” order or a DNR. It may contain provisions for select aggressive treatments or no treatment at all.  You may choose to refuse a feeding tube in the event you become terminally ill.  The advanced medical directive may also contain a provision appointing someone else to make your medical decisions for you.  You may also dictate how, or if, you receive life-sustaining treatment in the case of severe disease or mental defect. Advance medical directives are a way to provide consent for treatment or refusal for treatment when you cannot speak for yourself. 

If you do not have an advanced medical directive, varying states may differentiate on who they appoint to make your medical decisions. Generally, a surviving spouse can make a decision in your place.  If there is no surviving spouse, your children can make decisions for you.  Keep in mind though, if the time comes, these may not necessarily be the people you want to make the decisions for you. 

When It Is Utilized

The advance medical directive is only utilized when you are incapable of making medical decisions for yourself.  Until the instance arises (if it ever should) where you are unable to effectively communicate your wishes to your doctors, you are the only person who can provide consent or refusal for treatment.  As long as you are conscious and presently aware, your doctors will explain to you the benefits, alternatives, and risks of the proposed treatment.  You then give your consent or refusal for the treatment; this is called informed consent or informed refusal.  You retain your right to make an informed consent or informed refusal decision as long as you are able to do so. 

Lifting The Decision Burden 

An additional benefit to having an advance medical directive is lifting the burden from your loved ones.  If you already have in writing what treatments you want or do not want, your loved ones do not have to make those heart-wrenching decisions for you.  When you remove the burden from loved ones, they can spend more time focusing on the patient. 

The benefits of an advance medical directive are clearly advantageous.  It gives loved ones and medical providers clear instructions on what treatment you want and what treatment you do not want.  However, your medical directive does not take away your right to consent or refuse treatment while you remain able to do so. 

Living Will 

This is another type of advance medical directive that specifies the treatment that should be provided to or withheld from a person who becomes terminally ill or incapacitated and cannot communicate his or her decisions about end-of-life care.