In my last post, I wrote about why your doctor wants you to have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions. Your doctor also wants you to have a Health Care Directive. A Health Care Directive (sometimes called a living will) is a legal document that allows you to indicate whether you want life-sustaining nutrition and hydration administered to you if you have been diagnosed with a terminal condition or a permanently unconscious condition. In Washington, Health Care Directives are authorized by RCW 70.122.030. This statute provides that “any adult person” may execute a document directing the withholding or withdrawal of treatment if diagnosed with a terminal or permanently unconscious condition.
Together with a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions, a Health Care Directive can help make sure that you receive the level of medical treatment that you want, and not treatment that you would not want, under circumstances where you are unable to communicate with your medical providers. However, these documents are only effective if the medical provider who is treating you knows the documents exist.
As this New York Times article discusses, the medical providers who provide treatment when you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency are unlikely to be your regular physician with whom you have previously talked about your end-of-life wishes. One tactic to avoid receiving medical care that is not consistent with your wishes is to make sure that you include a copy of your Health Care Directive in your medical file, along with your Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions. Ideally, any medical provider administering emergency care will review your complete medical file and take note of the existence of your Health Care Directive and its contents.
However, emergency medical treatment is not always administered under ideal conditions, and the Health Care Directive may be missed. This is why it is also important to provide your nominated agent under your Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions with a copy of your Health Care Directive so that this person is also aware of your wishes in regards to end-of-life treatment. After all, it is your agent under your Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions who will be making medical decisions on your behalf when you are not able to do so. This person should know what your wishes are as to end-of-life treatment so that your agent can serve as your advocate to your medical providers.
Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care Decisions and Health Care Directives are powerful documents that can ensure that you receive the level of medical treatment that you want when you are unable to communicate your wishes. However, it is important that everyone involved in your medical treatment knows and understands what these wishes are. To achieve this goal, communication is key.
Questions about Health Care Directives? We’re happy to discuss.