Questions & Answers: Advance Directives and End of Life Decisions
Should I prepare a living will and also use a medical power of attorney to appoint an agent?
Yes. You can best protect your treatment wishes by appointing a healthcare
agent and preparing a living will. Each offers something the other does
Benefits of appointing a healthcare agent.
Medical decision-making is rarely simple. Treatment decisions must be made in
response to changing medical conditions, and medical situations frequently
unfold unpredictably. Decision-making often involves weighing the benefits and
burdens of treatments and even evaluating the odds for success or failure.
The person whom you appoint as your agent can respond flexibly to changes or
unanticipated situations in a way that no document can. In addition, you are
legally authorizing that person to make decisions based not only on what you
expressed in writing or verbally, but also on the knowledge of you as a person.
Your agent can consider other concerns you might have, such as the effect of
your illness on your family and the quality of life that matters to you.
Living wills address end-of-life decisions only. An agent appointed through
a medical power of attorney usually can make healthcare decisions for you in a
wider range of situations than those involving end-of-life care.
Benefits of having a living will.
If your agent must decide whether medical treatment should be withheld or
withdrawn to permit you to die, your living will can reassure your agent that
he or she is following your wishes. Further, if the person you appointed as
agent is unavailable or unwilling to speak for you, if you have been unable to
identify an appropriate agent, or if other people challenge a decision not to
use life sustaining medical treatments, your living will can guide your
caregivers. A thoughtfully prepared living will is a valuable supplement to
appointing an agent.
What if I do not have anyone to appoint as my agent?
If you have no one to appoint as your agent, it is especially important that
you complete a clear living will and that you talk about it with anyone who
might be involved with your health care. This might include family members,
even if you do not want one of them to be your agent. It also could include
social workers, spiritual caregivers, visiting nurses, or health aides who are
helping you in some context. You should discuss it with any physicians that you
see regularly and give them a copy to put in your medical record. If you are
admitted to a hospital or long-term care facility, you should have a copy of
your living will made a part of your medical record.
WebMD Medical Reference from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization