Items that should be addressed in an advance health care directive

An advance health care directive can outline desired medical treatment, who should make medical decisions and what should happen after death.

Living wills, also referred to as an advance health care directive, give California residents control over what happens to them in a medical emergency. Even though this type of legal document can relieve stress from family members, most people do not have a directive in place. In fact, the National Healthcare Decisions Day states that only 29 percent of people say they have an advance health care directive set up. Some people may be tentative to create a living will because they do not understand what it is or what it should cover.

Desired medical treatments

The main topic of an advance health care directive is the type of treatment a person would receive near the end of his or her life. For example, some people choose to sign a do not resuscitate order. This stops a medical professional from performing CPR on a patient. As someone chooses what end-of-life care treatments he or she would want performed, it can be helpful to ask certain questions, including the following:

  • Should infections be treated aggressively with antibiotic or antiviral medications?
  • How long should a feeding tube be used?
  • Is it okay to be put on a dialysis machine that would help the kidneys function?
  • Would it be okay to be on a mechanical ventilator for any length of time?
  • Would it be preferable to be on pain medications or manage pain in another way?

After answering these questions in a living will, a person may want to discuss his or her wishes with close family members and friends.

Named health care agent

End-of-life care can take unexpected turns. When a person's advance health care directive does not cover a specific topic, the hospital may turn to a health care agent who will make the decisions for the patient. This agent could be a family member, friend or legal advisor. If no one is named in the directive, the medical staff would likely turn to the next of kin. However, this person may not always have the same values as the patient nor know what type of treatments the patient would want.

Planned body arrangements

Finally, an advance health care directive can discuss how a person would want his or her body treated after death. Some people wish to donate their entire body for scientific studies whereas others wish to give their organs to other patients in need. Still others wish to keep their body as intact as possible. The living will provides a place to discuss these wishes. This legal document could even mention what type of funeral arrangements are in place.

Some California residents may require medical attention for end-of-life care. It can be beneficial to work with an attorney to create an advance health care directive.