What is an advance directive?
An advance directive tells your doctor what kind of care you would like to have if you become unable to make
medical decisions (if you are in a coma, for example). If you are admitted to the hospital, the hospital staff will probably
talk to you about advance directives.
A good advance directive describes the kind of treatment you would want depending on how sick you are. For
example, the directives would describe what kind of care you want if you have an illness that you are unlikely to recover
from, or if you are permanently unconscious. Advance directives usually tell your doctor that you don't want certain kinds
of treatment. However, they can also say that you want a certain treatment no matter how ill you are.
Advance directives can take many forms. Laws about advance directives are different in each state. You should
be aware of the laws in your state.
What is a living will?
A living will is one type of advance directive. It only comes into effect when you are terminally ill. Being
terminally ill generally means that you have less than six months to live. In a living will, you can describe the kind of
treatment you want in certain situations. A living will doesn't let you select someone to make decisions for you.
What is a durable power of attorney for health care?
A durable power of attorney (DPA) for health care is another kind of advance directive. A DPA states whom
you have chosen to make health care decisions for you. It becomes active any time you are unconscious or unable to make medical
decisions. A DPA is generally more useful than a living will. But a DPA may not be a good choice if you don't have another
person you trust to make these decisions for you.
Living wills and DPAs are legal in most states. Even if they aren't officially recognized by the law in your
state, they can still guide your loved ones and doctor if you are unable to make decisions about your medical care. Ask your
doctor, lawyer or state representative about the law in your state.
What is a do not resuscitate order?
A do not resuscitate (DNR) order is another kind of advance directive. A DNR is a request not to have cardiopulmonary
resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops or if you stop breathing. (Unless given other instructions, hospital staff will try
to help all patients whose heart has stopped or who have stopped breathing.) You can use an advance directive form or tell
your doctor that you don't want to be resuscitated. In this case, a DNR order is put in your medical chart by your doctor.
DNR orders are accepted by doctors and hospitals in all states.
Most patients who die in a hospital have had a DNR order written for them. Patients who are not likely to
benefit from CPR include people who have cancer that has spread, people whose kidneys don't work well, people who need a lot
of help with daily activities, or people who have severe infections such as pneumonia that require hospitalization.