The living will and the advance health care directive are basically the same thing. Use of either term depends on who you talk to. Some hospitals call it one, some the other. Same goes for lawyers.
Both help you prepare for your end of life decisions. Most people would choose to die surrounded by family and to go quickly, but most people would also want various interventions to prolong their life which may not allow them to die the way they want. When it comes time, you are not likely to be in a position to make those decisions yourself.
Often spouses or children get put into a situation where they must determine what measures you want taken in the event of a serious illness or emergency. This can be an incredibly difficult decision, which is why it is important to have a living will.
The living will or advanced health care directive are documents that tell the doctors what procedures they can and cannot do to you or who will make that decision for you. They deal with issues such as when CPR or other interventions should or should not be performed, and what type of facility you would be taken to.
In order for your personal wishes to be carried out, you need to include others in the conversation. If you just fill out a form and assume everything is done, you will be disappointed. If you have a heart attack and are taken to the hospital, no one is going to know that you have a living will if you haven’t talked about it with your family beforehand. It is important that the people that will be making health care decisions for you are informed and willing to act in the way you would like.
When you decide to make a living will, you can go to a lawyer and pay him some money for the documents. Since I am a lawyer this sounds like a great idea, but there is a better way. Go down to the local hospital where you will likely be taken in an emergency and ask for a living will form. Most hospitals will have a form you can fill out that will reflect your wishes. When doctors see the form from their hospital, they will be able to act quickly to fulfill your wishes. If you take in a long legal document, the doctor is not going to have time to read it through and decide if they should perform CPR on you or not. Some good examples of instructions and forms from a major hospital are as follows:
Within the living will, you will need to determine what type of medical procedures you would like (and not like) to have done. Some people might assume that you would like all procedures done so that you will keep living. However, it is important to understand what can and will happen if you choose to allow certain procedures. For example, when people think of CPR, they get this image from TV with a doctor pounding on someone’s chest to bring them back to life. On TV, 75% of the people given CPR have a good outcome. In reality, only 8% of people that have CPR performed will survive longer than a month. You have 3% chance of having normal brain function. You also have a 3% of being in a prolonged vegetative state. Talking to a doctor about what happens during different procedures and what the possible outcomes would be is important when making these end of life decisions.
Get the facts. Make the decisions. Make sure your loved ones know about your wishes. And then rest easier, knowing you have done what you can to make things easier for them and you when the unthinkable happens.