Individuals have the ability to make sure that their medical wishes are followed even after they are able to make the medical decisions. Consider the following hypothetical. Abe stands at the door of Betty nursing home room, tears streaming down his face. The medical staff just finished inserted a feeding tube into Betty – an act Abe knew she didn’t want. Unfortunately, Betty couldn’t express her wishes due to advanced dementia, and she had no legal documents that expressed her wishes not to be fed by artificial means. Abe had no choice but to sit back and watch his wife go through a procedure she didn’t want.
The situation with Abe and Betty could have been avoided through the use of proper advanced planning. An advance directive is actually a collection of documents. What that includes differs depending on your needs and wishes, along with what the law allows. However, it usually means at least a Living Will (also called an Advanced Care Directives), and a Power of Attorney for Healthcare (also called a Medical Durable Power of Attorney).
The purpose of this set of documents is to allow you to control what happens to your health care in case you cannot speak for yourself. In Michigan, medical decisions can be made by the individual you name in your Medical Durable Power of Attorney. Your advance care directive allows you the opportunity to leave your wishes about those medical decisions in writing.
Usually, what this means is that two doctors agree that an individual is terminally ill, permanently unconscious, or at the “end-stage” of a condition. Once that happens, and the individual cannot express their preferences, doctors turn to the advance directive to figure out what the individual wants.
A Living Will determines what happens to an individual making it, unlike a Last Will and Testament, which determines what happens to their money and possessions. A Living Will describes what healthcare providers can and cannot do to prolong your life or ease your pain when you cannot express those preferences yourself. For example, do you want to be placed on a ventilator if you cannot breathe on your own? Do you want a feeding tube and IVs set up, and if so, for how long? Do you want to be an organ or tissue donor?
A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare lets you choose someone to make healthcare decisions for you when you cannot. They still must follow your Living Will, but they will be able to make decisions not explicitly considered by your Living Will, in accordance with the facts of the situation. In most states, there are “default surrogate consent laws” which allow family members to make treatment decisions on your behalf, but who is chosen to make these decisions and what they choose to do may not be in accordance with your wishes, as it hopefully would be with a Durable Power of Attorney.
Other documents may be part of an advance directive by law, or they may be worth including on your own volition. These include Do Not Resuscitate orders and Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, among others. You might also consider an advance directive in case of a mental health crisis.
This is a difficult subject to consider, and it always seems like it won’t be necessary. But nearly 70 percent of Americans don’t have plans in place for a worst-case scenario, which means for some of them, decisions may be made for them with which they would not agree, if they had the capacity to choose. For that reason, it is worth thinking about implementing an advance directive even if it seems unnecessary now.
If you or a loved one would like more information about making medical decisions through advance directives, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Dafoe Law, PLLC at (989) 321-2330
Dafoe Law, PLLC is a Life Care Planning law firm serving the Estate Planning, long-term care, end of life preparations, probate, and trust administration needs of clients in Saginaw, Bay, Genesee, Huron and Tuscola Counties. Dafoe Law serves Frankenmuth, Bridgeport, Birch Run, Reese, Millington, Clio, Vassar, Saginaw, Saginaw Township, Freeland, Thomas Township, Spaulding Township, Burt, Bay City, Essexville, Munger, Kochville Township, Caro, Cass City, Sebewaing, Unionville, Pigeon, Bad Axe. Travis I. Dafoe is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorney and WealthCounsel. Dafoe Law, PLLC is also a member of the Life Care Planning Law Firm Association.