An advance healthcare directive enables you to nominate a health care agent. By nominating a health care agent you are choosing an individual to make health care decisions on your behalf, or in specific situations depending on your specific wishes. If you know and have documented how you would like to be treated given the occurrence of a specific medical situation, your health care agent will follow these instructions. Your health care agent will act as your advocate and ensure that medical staff caring for you will follow your wishes.
Perhaps most importantly, the advance healthcare directive prevents and avoids conflict between family members disagreeing on your medical care. These heart-wrenching situations can be avoided by having your chosen method of care documented in an advance healthcare directive, which is a binding document that, subject to limited exceptions, no-one has the right to overturn.
Pursuant to State law, should you need life sustaining treatment and you do not have your wishes documented in the form of an advance healthcare directive, a family member will generally be sought out to make such a decision. Many court battles have ensued between families and medical care providers in attempts to gain decision- making power when it comes to the care of a loved one.
In 2004, the life of Terry Schiavo of Florida became public knowledge. Ms. Schiavo had suffered a brain injury and was receiving artificial nutrition and hydration for more than ten years while her relatives battled about whether to withdraw such treatment. Ultimately the court decided that her husband’s decision that her tubes be withdrawn should be honored and shortly after, the treatment was indeed removed. This long heartbreaking battle for her family could have been completely avoided had Ms. Schiavo nominated a healthcare agent (eg her husband or her parents) to make the ultimate decisions. Similarly, had Ms. Schiavo documented whether or not she would want to continue life sustaining treatment in such a situation, the court room battle and family conflict could also have been avoided.
The advance healthcare directive should be incorporated into a well thought out estate plan. It can also be assembled as a stand-alone document. Ensure peace of mind for yourself and your family in the future by putting in place a well thought out advance healthcare directive today.