A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Advance directives: Who’s making your health care decisions?

Couple talking on couch drinking coffeePatients have the right to make decisions about their health care.

But what happens if you can’t express those wishes?

Will your doctors know which treatments you do and don’t want? Will your family have a say in decisions about your health care?

If you don’t have an advance directive, the answer to those questions might be “no.” Advance directives let you communicate future health care choices, and every adult should have one, said Marshfield Clinic social worker Scott Seeger.

What’s an advance directive?

An advance directive is a written statement of your wishes about future health care decisions and who can make medical decisions for you if you can’t communicate.

What’s included in an advance directive?

Requirements vary by state, but an advance directive normally includes a living will and a health care power of attorney.

  • A living will tells your doctor what kind of life-sustaining treatment you want if you’re dying or in a persistent vegetative state with no hope for recovery.
  • A health care power of attorney allows you to appoint someone to make your health care decisions if you’re unable to make your own decisions.

Why do I need an advance directive?

“Every adult should have an advance directive because medical crises and accidents don’t discriminate,” Seeger said.

Some states, including Wisconsin, don’t let family make medical decisions for you when you’re incapacitated unless you have an advance directive.

Without an advance directive document, a court would need to appoint a guardian to make medical decisions for you.

Where do I get an advance directive?

Your primary care provider, social workers in the Marshfield Clinic Community Resources department, or your attorney can help you complete an advance directive.

The forms also are available on state government websites. A professional can make sure you’re using the right forms and they’re completed correctly.

Who gets a copy of my advance directive?

  • Keep a copy on file at home. Bring it with you when you’re traveling and when you’re admitted to the hospital, if possible.
  • Your doctors. Your primary care doctor and specialists you see regularly should have a copy of your advance directive.
  • Your health care agent. Provide a copy to the person you have appointed to make your health care decisions if you’re incapacitated.

Will my advance directive be followed?

The most reliable way to make sure your wishes are followed is to talk to your health care providers, family members and health care agents.

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