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What Is An Advanced Medical Directive?

Like many of you before my grandfather became ill I often questioned, what is an advanced medical directive? At 87 years-old my grandfather needed opened heart surgery. Our family was torn between what was the right avenue to take, how much should we do for him and when was it time to let him go. We soon learned that an advanced medical directive is a living will.

For my grandfather, the living will outlined his wishes in the event that he was struck by a terminal illness or was unconscious, incapable of making a decision for his health care. A basic advanced medical directive gave detailed instructions to family members for his wishes if specific situations arose. For instance, should prolonged life-sustaining procedures be pursued at this time? The patient can direct their physician to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining procedures that will simply prolong death which is inevitable regardless of the treatment and the procedures are not necessary for the patient's comfort or relief of pain.

Most directives mandate that the maker outline which procedures they want withheld and under what conditions of terminal illness or unconsciousness they would want medical services stopped. And would they like to donate their organs. The following is a common list of procedures for most medical directives that a person would need to accept or decline:
  • Intravenous supplied hydration
  • Feeding tube supplied for food
  • Surgery
  • CPR
  • Drugs-antibiotics or pain relievers
  • Dialysis
  • Chemotherapy
  • Being placed on a ventilator
An Advance Medical Directive allows the maker to refuse or accept life-sustaining treatment in any situation. Unlike a living will, a directive can be used to state your wishes about your health care in any situation in which you are unable to make your own decisions, not just when you are in a coma or are terminally ill. In addition, this signed piece of paper allows you to choose someone you trust to speak for you when you are incapacitated.

Preparing this directive affords you the luxury of choosing someone that you are comfortable with to insure that your decisions are followed to the letter if you are incapacitated. You can also visit before hand with the person that you choose and clearly state your wishes. If you don't believe in receiving blood products, then make this clear to the person you have chosen, tell them under no circumstances do you want any blood products.

The whole purpose of this directive is to give the maker complete control over their life while they are capable of making decisions and choices. It is simply a map for the person the maker chooses to place in charge of their health care should the need arise. It guides the decision person to follow the maker's wishes.

And the nice thing is that you don't need a separate living will if you have already made your wishes known about life-sustaining treatment in your Advanced Medical Directive. Most states will also recognize an Advanced Medical Directive no matter where it originates from. Hospitals will require your signed directive upon admittance. I will never question again what is an advanced medical directive, but I will always be thankful that my grandfather had one. It simply meant that we did not have to worry about making any decisions. My grandfather already had and we knew that we were doing what he wanted. It lifted the burden off our shoulders.

Brenda Segna