Advance Directives and Living Wills
End of life decisions about medical care can be much easier when advance directives are used. An advanced directive simply means a statement, made while you are competent, about the medical treatment you want when you consciously cannot make decisions. Decisions made early and communicated plainly may have tremendous value for the person and the family.
The state of Florida provides excellent information about health care advanced directives.
The main types of advance directives are:
- Living Will, a written or oral statement that specifies the kind of care you want or do not want
- Health care surrogate, a document that designates the person who will make medical decisions for you. An alternative is called a "durable power of attorney," which designates a representative who could have other duties as well: legal, financial, etc.
- Do not resuscitate order (DNRO), a specific yellow form available from the Florida Department of Health that tells medical personnel you do not want to be resuscitated from respiratory or cardiac arrest. The DNRO is used, for example, with patients having terminal cancer or untreatable organ failure.
- Anatomical donation, a document indicating your wish to donate all or part of your body at death.
Here is important information about advance directives:
- A lawyer is not required to create an advance directive, unless you desire one.
- Two witnesses are required, whether the directive is oral or written. The witnesses must be at least 18 years of age and may not be related to the individual by blood, marriage or adoption.
- The designated health care surrogate may not witness the signature on the advance directive.
- Read and discuss your directive with those concerned (your doctor, surrogate, family) to make sure that they understand your wishes as you intend them.
- Give copies to the appropriate people. These might include your family and loved ones, your physician, your lawyer, and your clergy. Take a copy with you each time you are admitted to the hospital.
- Keep your advance directive in a safe place that is easily accessible 24 hours a day in the event you need it.
- You have the right to accept or refuse treatment and you may change or cancel a directive at any time.
- If you have signed a directive and you believe that a doctor or hospital hasn't followed the instructions in it, you may file a complaint with the Florida Health Consumer Services Unit, 4052 Bald Cypress Way, Bin C75, Tallahassee, FL 32399-3275; the telephone number is 850-245-4339 or toll free 1-888-419-3456.
For more information about Five Wishes call 850-523-7422 opt 3.
Need help completing an ADVANCE DIRECTIVE?
Through the PEACE (Planning Early About Care at the End) program. Big Bend Hospice offers individualized assistance in completing the Five Wishes Advance Directive. The PEACE program, modeled after Respecting Choices, utilizes certified health care facilitators who have been trained in helping individuals and their families have on-going discussions about important issues such as what treatment a person would want if they are no longer able to speak for themselves to how a person would like to be remembered. These desires are captured on a Five Wishes document and a reliable system is set in place to ensure the document is available as needed.
To schedule an appointment with a PEACE facilitator, contact Big Bend Hospice at (850) 878-5310 or visit online at http://www.bigbendhospice.org/peace.html.