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Questions & Answers: Advance Directives and End of Life Decisions

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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 final nature.

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 statements.

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 loved one.

WebMD Medical Reference from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

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