Complete Advance Directives for End of Life Care

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Some individuals believe that life should be maintained no matter what, even if the individual is terminally ill, unconscious and being kept alive by artificial means. Others feel that it makes no sense to apply heroic measures if there is no chance of recovery. Regardless of where you fall on the ideological divide, one thing is clear: If you want to make decisions regarding your end-of-life care – rather than have them made by your family, guardian or the courts – you need to put your requests in writing.

Completing Advance Health Care Directives

Advance health care directives are legal documents that allow you to direct your health care if you are unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to communicate. A living will, also called an advance health care directive, allows you to specify in writing the kinds of health care you want under certain conditions. You can change or revoke your living will at any time. Your advance health care directives go into effect only if you are seriously ill or injured and cannot communicate.

Five Steps to Take

1) Consider the types of health care you want under specific circumstances. For example, do you want pain to be controlled regardless of the impact on your mental or physical state? Do you want life-prolonging treatment only if there is a good chance of complete recovery, or would you accept a limited level of recovery? What about a ventilator (artificial breathing), artificial hydration and feeding, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and dialysis? Under what circumstances would you accept or not accept these treatments?

2) Discuss your wishes with the person or persons you plan to name in your advance health care directive, as well as family members and close friends. This is important because you cannot anticipate every possibility in your living will.

3) Complete the advance health care directive forms according to the instructions. Make sure you comply with the instructions, especially with any signature, witness and notarization requirements.

4) Keep a master copy of your advance health care directives in an accessible place at home. Also give a copy to your family members and your physician. You may also register a copy with the California Secretary of State's office.

5) Review your directives each year or whenever your health situation or philosophical outlook changes and revise them as needed.

Note that most states will honor advance directives completed in another state. However, no state will honor a request that is illegal under its laws (for example, assisted suicide), regardless of whether it is legal elsewhere.

Where to Get Forms

You can usually obtain advance health care directive forms from your physician, the Department of Health, the California Medical Association ( *) or a local hospital.

* Website is provided for information only. No endorsement is implied.