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Advance Directive: What to Include - Topic Overview

A living will and a medical power of attorney are types of advance directives. These forms describe the kinds of medical care you want to receive if you're badly hurt or have a serious illness that keeps you from saying what you want. A medical power of attorney lets you name a person to be your health care agent. He or she can make decisions for you if you can't speak for yourself.

Many states have a unique form (for example, they may ask you to address specific issues). Or you might use a universal form that has been approved by many states. This kind of form can sometimes be completed and stored online. Your electronic copy will then be available wherever you have a connection to the Internet. Doctors typically respect your wishes even if you have a form from a different state.

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It may be hard to know what to include in your advance directive. Take your time, and use the questions below to help you get started.

Who do you want to make your health care decisions for you?

  • Do you have a person in mind, such as your partner, a close friend, or your doctor? (In some states, your treating doctor can't be your health care agent.)
  • Can you talk to this person about the kinds of treatments you do or don't want to have?
  • Does this put too much pressure on the person to make decisions for you? Do you think that he or she will be able to do what you ask?
  • Do you think that your friends, your family, and others will support your decisions?

Do you know enough about the kinds of treatments that can help keep you alive?

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is used if your heart has stopped.
  • A breathing machine that pumps air into your lungs through a tube is used if you can't breathe on your own.
  • Dialysis is used if your kidneys stop working.
  • A feeding tube or an intravenous (IV) line is used to provide food and fluids if you can't eat or drink.
  • Antibiotics are medicines used to treat serious infections.
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