With the nationís elderly population increasing, Americaís emergency
physicians urge adults of any age to get their affairs in order when
it comes to advance directives.
ďA living will expresses your own health care wishes in written form
if you were unable to verbally do so yourself, said Jay Kaplan, MD,
FACEP, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
ďIf you were in a coma from an accident, for example, and never
wanted a feeding tube ó your living will would need to say that.Ē
Only about a quarter (26 percent) of Americans currently have an
advance directive ó like a living will, according to a 2014 study by
the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Lack of awareness was
the top reason for why the majority do not.
National Healthcare Decisions Day is April 16th. Thereís a push to
help people across the United States put in place an advance
directive now before it is too late.
What is an Advance Directive?
An advance directive is a legal document stating your medical wishes
if you were unable to express them yourself. They would include a
power of attorney and living will. It states to your doctor and/or
any health care worker what type of care you would want (i.e. no
breathing tube, etc.) if you were too ill to tell someone yourself.
You should know you are also able to change the documents at any
time. It is also written when you are deemed competent and able to
understand what these decisions mean and how they will affect you.
Also, it is recommended you give a copy of the advance directive to
someone (i.e. your doctor) so your wishes can be properly carried
out (do not leave your advance directive in a safety deposit box
where no one would be able to find it). However, each state has
slightly different variations to their advance directive laws, so
please refer to your local governmental authority or
livingwillregistry.com/ for further details.
a Living Will?
A living will expresses your own healthcare wishes if you were
unable to do so yourself in the written form. For example, if you
were in a coma (letís say, from an accident) and you never wanted to
have a feeding tube placed. If you stated this in your living will,
then a feeding tube will not be placed if this was documented in
your living will advance directive.
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Some other living will directives may include
whether or not to undergo dialysis, to donate any of your tissue or
organs, and/or whether to have your heart restarted (either
chemically or electrically) if it ever stopped. Again, your living
will can be changed at any time and again, refer to your local state
laws for specific governmental details.
What is a Power of Attorney?
A power of attorney is someone you trust (usually a family member or
close friend, greater than 18 years of age) to make medical
decisions for you if you were ever unable to yourself. For example,
letís say you became suddenly ill and unable to breathe (and speak)
on your own. Your power of attorney is contacted. If the power of
attorney knows you never wanted to have a breathing tube placed,
they would be able to tell the healthcare professionals taking care,
making sure your wishes are fulfilled. Of note, in some states, if
you have a living will AND a power of attorney, the power of
attorneyís opinion may trump that of your living will. For instance,
if you come through an emergency department unconscious, and your
living will states you donít want your heart restarted, but your
power of attorney states you DO, then your heart would try to be
restarted. There are state specific guidelines for this appointment
as well, so again contact your local state governmental agency for
ACEP is the national medical specialty society representing
emergency medicine. ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care
through continuing education, research and public education.
Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing
each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A
Government Services Chapter represents emergency physicians employed
by military branches and other government agencies.
[AMERICAN COLLEGE OF EMERGENCY