This is like an emergency medical treatment checklist for the important players in your life:
- The doctors use it as a guide to manage your care
- Your Health Care Proxy uses it to make sure what you want is getting done
If you’re worried this document gives medical professionals permission to kill you, relax. This is primarily about life support treatments, specifically if you’re suffering from a terminal or progressive illness or a major accident where you’re unlikely to recover. A Living Will is only used if you are deemed incapacitated and mentally incompetent by at least one doctor. Even then, it can be overruled if it jeopardizes your care.
One way to wrap your head around this is by evaluating life support treatments. All treatments have their upside and downside. For each you should consider the following questions, which you should go over with your doctor if you have any concerns:
- What purpose does this treatment serve?
- What are the side effects?
- What type of medical equipment will be used and how will it affect my body?
- Does this treatment usually improve my overall health, or does it simply extend my life?
The COVID-19 Factor
COVID-19 has pushed one type of life-saving treatment to the forefront: ventilators (a.k.a. respirator or breathing machine), which provides air to your lungs through a tube if you're unable to breathe on your own. The use of ventilators during the pandemic may differ from that of a Living Will. The virus is affecting people of all ages, some of which have never had health issues in the past, and ventilators are being used to buy time and keep people alive in order to overcome the virus and recover.
In the context of a Living Will, the use of a ventilator is an option you may want to choose or decline when there’s very little chance of recovery or survival. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has forced some medical institutions around the world to rewrite the rules of medical treatment. If supplies are limited it may be up to the hospital and medical providers to make the incredibly difficult decision as to who gets treated. This is a terrifying prospect, but to help medical professionals in this time of need it’s vital to have a Living Will so everyone knows what you want. As we enter uncharted territory, the only thing we can do is be prepared and hope for the best.
Now that you know how vital an Advance Directive is it’s time to finalize it with these 4 steps
- If you’ve been following these tasks you should already have your state's Advance Directive form -- if you don’t, get it here now.
- Fill it out using the information included in the document. If you’re unsure of anything, contact a doctor or medical professional for clarity.
- Have a witness countersign it. Check the rules on your state’s form since they can vary. For example, some states require more than one witness; some won’t allow your Health Care Proxy to be a witness.
- Share it with the people who will need it.
Related Task: Places To Store Your Advance Directive
This isn’t one of those documents that requires privacy or discretion. You shouldn’t keep it locked in a safe or hidden away. For it to be of any use, it has to be available when it’s needed. And you never know when it’ll be needed, so here are some suggestions:
- Keep it with other important household documents (Emergency contact list, WiFi password, other places it can be easily located).
- If you’ve been experiencing health issues, keep it on your fridge or some place in plain sight; you should also keep a copy in your car, since many unexpected medical emergencies are the result of an accident.
- Give a copy to your Health Care Proxy.
- Give a copy to your doctor.
- Upload a copy to your Everplan.
We know this one big Advance Directive task can be difficult, but making your medical decisions and wishes known is one of the most important aspects of planning. Once it’s completed and shared with the people who need you can be proud knowing you’ve done a great service for your family and the medical professionals providing you care.