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Advance Health Care Directive

The Importance of Health Care Directives

Some people call this a “living will,” however a living will only deals with end of life decisions. ┬áThe Advance Health Care Directive that we will prepare for you covers all kinds of medical decisions, including end of life decisions.

All adults have the fundamental right to control their own medical care, including the decision to utilize or terminate artificial, extraordinary or heroic medical treatments that only prolong the process of dying. This right is normally exercised by competent patients giving (or withholding) consent for treatment when such treatment is proposed by their physicians or the facility in which they are receiving care.

If you want your wishes to guide those responsible for your health care, you must plan in advance. Generally, such planning is more likely to be effective if it is done in writing. An Advance Health Care Directive is a written statement of your directions regarding the kind of medical care you wish to receive under certain limited circumstances in the event that you become unable to make your own decisions. The Advance Directive becomes effective only when the patient is in one of the following conditions: (a) permanently unconscious; (b) in a persistent vegetative state; (c) terminally ill, which is defined by statute to mean an expectation of survival of less than six months; (d) there has been a declaration of death based on neurological criteria, i.e. brain death; and (e) if the patient has a serious irreversible illness and the risks and burdens of providing treatment reasonably outweigh the benefits to the patient, and imposition of treatment on an unwilling patient would be inhumane.

Your Advance Health Care Directive allows you to designate a person, whom you trust and understands your health care wishes, to act as your agent. This designee, known as a proxy, is granted the legal authority to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make such decisions for yourself. If you become incapacitated and cannot make your own decisions, your chosen proxy (also known as your “Health Care Representative”) will serve as your substitute. The proxy is your representative in discussions with your physician and others responsible for your care when you are unable to communicate your wishes. In order to be effective in New Jersey, the document appointing the health care proxy must contain clear language stating that it is to be used for such an appointment. Many medical powers of attorney found at stationery stores, discount supply houses and bookstores do not meet these requirements. Therefore, you should be cautious about signing any such documents without professional oversight.

An Advance Health Care Directive can be updated or modified, in whole or in part, at any time, by a legally competent individual. You should review your Directive periodically and update it whenever you feel it no longer accurately reflects your wishes. It is a good idea to review your Directive not less than every two years.