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Advance Directives

Asserting Your Healthcare Preferences

Your life is a precious gift and you should have the best medical care available but sometimes medical care cannot cure a deadly illness or injury. As a competent adult, you have the right to make decisions about the course of your treatment. Many will plan for their children's educations, their vacations, their retirement, their life insurance but most do not take the time to make plans for the healthcare treatment. (Video from AARP about advance directives.)

A growing number of Americans are taking an active role in the course of their treatment before they become seriously ill. They are stating their healthcare preferences through legal documents called advance directives.

Formal advance directives are documents written in advance of serious illness or injury that enable you to make legally valid decisions about your future medical care or name someone to make those decisions if you should become unable to do so. In Tennessee, there are two advanced planning documents: Advance Care Plan and Appointment of Health Care Agent.

Advance Care Plan (or Living Will): is a document that states the kind of life-prolonging medical care you want if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious or in a vegetative state. It informs your doctors about your wishes for further medical care or non-care plus other matters such as organ donation. There are certain common conditions (terminal, irreversible brain damage, and dementia illnesses) and treatment commonly used in end-of-life situations (CPR, ventilators, artificial nutrition, hydration, dialysis, and antibiotics) that can be discussed and decided in advance. Each state has different laws. In Tennessee, two witnesses are required for this document. A notary is optional.

Appointment of Health Care Agent (or Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare): is a document that allows you to point a person to represent your wishes and make healthcare decisions on your behalf should you become injured or ill to the point that you can no longer communicate or make those decisions for yourself. This is someone you trust to ensure that your choice or decision is honored.

All forms have a special section for you to write in specific comments about circumstances in which you would not want CPR, a feeding tube, dialysis, or treatment with a breathing machine. You should discuss these comments with your family and doctor so they can better understand what is important to you in receiving medical treatment. (Download the forms here for Tennessee.)

Tips to remember:

  • Before completing the advance directives, talk with your doctor and your attorney
  • Give all of your physicians a copy of your advance directives. Your physician directs your care (not the hospital) so it is important for each of your physicians to have a copy of your directives so they know your desires
  • When you are admitted to the hospital or nursing home, please present a copy of your advance directives. That is for each time you are re-admitted

An attorney can prepare advance directives for you. Hospitals will have blank sample documents if you request them. It is strongly recommended that each patient discuss their advance directives with their physicians and attorney before signing any document. Completing advance directives is voluntary. No one is required to have advance directives and hospitals do not demand that you do so as a condition of any kind of treatment.

For more information ask your attorney or your physician.


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