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Have you made these critical decisions?

If you want to ensure that you will always have a say in your medical care, consider a “healthcare advance directive.”

Advance directive is a term used to describe the combination of a living will and a healthcare power of attorney. Although either of these two documents can be drawn up without the other, most experts advise having both to ensure that your wishes are carried out.

In addition, a written document that explains your wishes will spare your family and friends the anguish of having to make such personal decisions for you without any guidance.

Making medical choices

A living will is a legal document that allows you to decide today what medical treatments you would and wouldn’t want should you become terminally ill. For example, a living will might state that you want any treatment that might prolong your life, regardless of what the quality of your life might be. Or, it might state that you don’t want life-sustaining treatment unless it will restore consciousness and/or your ability to communicate with other people.

A healthcare power of attorney is a legal document that allows you to name someone who will make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so.

The two documents work together. While you can describe your general healthcare goals and values in a living will, it’s impossible to anticipate every medical situation that could arise and to specify treatment choices for each of them. Depending on your situation, you may want to consult a physician to assist you in making an informed decision.

Choosing the right person to make medical decisions for you may not be easy. You’ll need to give someone you trust the authority to apply your values to any medical situation that arises.

He or she must understand how you feel about quality-of-life issues and the use of heroic medical measures to sustain life. He or she also must be capable of understanding complicated medical issues, have the ability to make tough decisions, and be strong enough to override the opinions of well-meaning relatives or friends who may disagree with your stated wishes.

You should also find out if your state has any restrictions on who can serve as your agent. For example, some states won’t let your doctor serve in this role.