Advance Directives and Do-Not-Resuscitate Orders: What You Need to Know
What is an advance directive?
An advance directive tells your doctor what kind of care you would like to have
if you become unable to make medical decisions. The law now says that at the time you are
admitted to the hospital, the hospital staff must tell you about advance directives.
Living wills are one type of advance directive. They only come into effect when you are
terminally ill. Being terminally ill generally means that you have less than six months to
live. In a living will, you can describe the kind of treatment you want in a certain
situations. A living will doesn't let you select someone to make decisions for you.
Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
A durable power of attorney (DPA) for health care is like a living will, but it becomes
active any time you are unconscious or unable to make medical decisions. In a DPA, you
select a family member or friend who will be your medical decision-maker if you become
unconscious or unable to make medical decisions. A DPA is generally more useful than a
living will. If you don't have another person you trust to make these decisions for you,
the DPA may not be right for you.
Unless given other instructions, hospital staff will try to help all patients whose
heart has stopped or who have stopped breathing. You can indicate with an advance
directive form or by talking with your doctor that you don't want to have cardiopulmonary
resuscitation (CPR) if your heat stops or if you stop breathing. In this case, a
do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order is put in your medical chart by your doctor. DNR orders are
accepted by doctors and hospitals in all states.
Should I have an advance directive?
Most advance directives are written by older or seriously ill patients. For example, a
patient with terminal cancer might write that she does not want to be put on an artificial
respirator if she stops breathing. This action can reduce her suffering, increase her
peace of mind and increase her control of her death. You might want to consider writing an
advance directive even if you are still in good health. An accident or serious illness can
happen suddenly, and if you already have a singed advance directive, your wishes are more
likely to be followed.
How can I write an advance directive?
You can write an advance directive in several ways:
NOTE: Advance directives and living wills are not complicated legal documents.
They can be short, simple statements about what you want done or not done if you can't
speak for yourself. Remember, anything you write by yourself or with a computer software
package should follow your state laws. The orders should be notarized if possible, and a
copy should be given to your family and your doctor.