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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

Frequently Asked Questions About Advanced Directives

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How are the living will and durable power of attorney for health care implemented?

Both documents require that two doctors determine that the patient has lost the capacity to make health care decisions. A living will has the additional requirement that the patient must be suffering from a terminal condition or is in an irreversible coma.

What are some other differences between the durable power of attorney for health care and the living will?

The living will simply requires the withholding or withdrawal of life-prolonging treatment, whereas the durable power of attorney for health care names a specific agent who is authorized to make decisions for the patient. Specific instructions may be given to the agent in the durable power of attorney for health care, but they are not required.

How do health professionals know if a person has an advanced directive?

Many hospitals and clinics will ask the patient or family upon admission about the existence of advanced directives when they are admitted to the hospital. The existence of an advanced directive is documented prominently in the medical chart. Also, health professionals should document the content of discussions about the patient's end-of-life desires or any expression of treatment preferences.

Immunity and Advanced Directives

Physicians and health care providers are immune from civil, criminal, and disciplinary action if they follow the advanced directive statute in good faith and meet its provisions.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Orders

Advanced directives are not Do-Not-Resuscitate orders. DNR orders are written by doctors to indicate that a patient should not be resuscitated. The order may be written to reflect a patient's or surrogate's expressed wishes about resuscitation, or because the patient will not benefit from resuscitation. For example, for someone with a living will or durable power of attorney for health care, CPR may be appropriate if they are suffering from an acute life-threatening condition. Patients with advance directives may want aggressive treatment for potentially reversible conditions.

Points to Remember About Advanced Directives

Advanced directives only take effect when the patient loses the ability to make his or her own decisions. Before that time, the patient's current expressed wishes should be followed.

Advanced directives do not replace active communication with patients and their families. Patients and families should be provided appropriate and sufficient information to make informed health care decisions. Patients' expressed preferences about health care treatments should be documented as they evolve in the course of treatment.

Assessing and attending to patients' spiritual needs are important in quality end-of-life care and should be a routine part of patient care.

Quality medical care also includes providing patients with a supportive atmosphere in which to reflect on end-of-life choices and to allow their wishes to be communicated to their health care providers and to their families.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on October 27, 2014
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