What is a Health Care Directive?

An Advanced Health Care Directive, often referred to as a “living will,” helps family members understand your wishes so that you are treated with dignity should your medical condition deteriorate. Due to its sensitive nature, many people do not like to discuss the topic of whether or not to stop medical treatment. If one does not have a health care directive, it leads to family members agonizing over what you “would have wanted.” The Advanced Health Care Directive can eliminate the stress on family members, as you have clearly communicated your wishes in a legal document.

Its purpose is to inform your health care providers that you do not want extraordinary means of life support in the event your medical condition is deemed terminal or if you become permanently unconscious. The legal document is a testament that you wish to die and not be kept alive through life support systems.

“Terminal condition” is defined as an incurable or irreversible medical condition, which in the absence of life support will, in the opinion of your physician, result in death within a short period of time.

“Permanently unconscious” means that at least two physicians believe you are in a permanent coma or eternal, irreversible vegetative state.

If your condition is terminal or you have become permanently unconscious, you can specify whether you would like the following treatments:

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, more commonly known as CPR, to restart your breathing if it should stop
  • Artificial nutrition and hydration, whereby fluids and/or nutrition would be provided through a tube in one’s stomach or throat if unable to drink and eat independently
  • Assistance with breathing by a respirator, whereby a tube is put down your throat and into your lungs
  • Any other directions about treatment you wish to avoid or have in the event of terminal illness or a permanently unconscious state

If I have a living will, does that mean I will not be resuscitated?

No. This is a common misconception. A living will is not a Do Not Resuscitate Order. The living will is only acted upon in the event the patient meets certain requirements regarding terminal condition and/or permanent unconsciousness.