Questions & Answers: Advance Directives and End of Life Decisions
Why bother with advance directives if I want my family to make the necessary decisions for me?
Depending on your state's laws, your family might not be allowed to make
decisions about life-sustaining treatment for you without written evidence of
your wishes. Although doctors usually turn to the next of kin to make most
decisions when patients cannot speak for themselves, a decision to withhold or
stop life-sustaining treatment often is handled differently because of its
Some state laws do permit family members to make all medical decisions for
their incapacitated loved ones. However, other states require clear evidence of
the patient's own wishes or a legally designated decision maker. Written
evidence, such as a living will or medical power of attorney, generally is
honored more readily in these situations than previously made oral
Even in states that do permit family decision-making, you should still
prepare advance directives for three reasons:
- You can name the person with whom you are most comfortable (this person
does not need to be a family member) to make sure your wishes are honored.
- Your advance directives will make your decisions known.
- It can help to resolve any conflict among family members.
Even families sometimes are reluctant to make decisions without knowledge of
a person's wishes.
Over the years we have heard many families express thankfulness that their
loved ones prepared advance directives and talked about the decisions written
in them. Such preparation spares families the anguish of trying to guess what
to do when they already are dealing with the pain of the illness and loss of a