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The Importance of Proper Advance Health Care Directives

By Bernard A. Krooks

Recently, discussions in health care legislation have brought up the need for individuals to consider advance health care directives.  It is important that these advance directives be thorough, so that they do not conflict with an individual’s wishes or a designated surrogate health care proxy’s decisions.

Thinking about the medical care and treatment one might want or need in the future is often a difficult task, as it requires individuals to seriously consider unfortunate circumstances.  However, it is important that all individuals over 18 prepare advance health care directives to ensure that their wishes are being fulfilled in the event of an emergency.  In the absence of advance health care directives, emergency medical treatments have left as many as 30,000 individuals in a permanent comatose and vegetative state.  Due to these emergency treatments, as many as two million Americans have been confined to nursing homes, resulting in a major financial burden on loved ones.  By failing to plan for life-changing situations, millions of individuals leave themselves exposed to prolonged, painful treatments.  What is more, their loved ones may become exposed to financial difficulties and emotional conflicts.  Establishing advance health care directives will ensure that these issues do not arise.

There are several different forms of advance directives.  The most common, a Living Will, is also the oldest form of an advance directive.  In a Living Will, an individual may express his or her wishes to avoid certain types of medical treatment, citing quality of life issues or religious conflicts.  Living Wills may also designate an individual’s desire to avoid lifesaving measures, such as tube feeding or resuscitation, in the event of a terminal illness.

Other forms of advance health care directives include establishing a durable power of attorney and health care proxy.  Recently, the State of New York has begun requiring that durable powers of attorney be notarized.  New York also requires that powers of attorney be witnessed by the persons taking on those responsibilities.  It is also important that an individual’s wishes be thoroughly discussed with the designated power of attorney, in case the durable power of attorney is forced to make a decision due to an unforeseen circumstance.

When creating advance directives, it is important that an individual consult a professional.  Without having someone with experience guiding the process, important elements could be left out, causing an individual’s wishes to be ignored or a conflict to be created among family members.