Advance Directives: “Die With Dignity” or “Don’t Pull the Plug?”


L. Woods

Experts advise against waiting until you experience some sort of health crisis to prepare your advance directives. Given that you have a better chance of getting hit by a bus tomorrow (twice) than you do of winning the lottery, you may want to give some thought to your last wishes. Laws about advance directives vary from state to state, but there are usually two types:

1) The first is a living will (not to be confused with a regular will, which stipulates things like who inherits Great-Grandma’s china and who gets your 1989 Corolla). A living will tells your family and doctor what kind of medical treatment to provide (or not provide) should you have a terminal illness or some sort of freak accident that leave you unable to communicate your wishes. It makes it clear beforehand if you’re in the “die with dignity” camp that prefers not to prolong the inevitable with an iron lung and feeding tubes, or the “don’t pull the plug” faction that insists heroic measures be taken even if you’re in a persistent vegetative state.

2) The second is a health care proxy, sometimes called a durable power of attorney. The health care proxy names the person who will be responsible for making your health care decisions for you should you become unable to make them yourself, so once you appoint someone, make sure to stay on their good side.

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In some states, advance directives can also specify after-death wishes around organ donation, euphemistically known as “anatomical gifts”. How much life is left in your liver? Are you okay with a stranger using your kidney? Borrowing your corneas?

Advance directives don’t make for cheerful dinner table conversation, but make sure you talk to your loved ones about them at least once. Even if they aren’t legally recognized in your state, they can still provide valuable guidance and reduce heartache and turmoil for your family when the inevitable happens.

You can simply write your last wishes out, get a form from your doctor or state health department, or use legal document computer software to prepare your advance directives. Once you’ve written them, have them witnessed, put them in a safe place, give copies to your doctor and to your proxy, and make sure at least one family member knows where the original is before the Alzheimer’s kicks in.

You can change or cancel your advance directives at any time, as long as you are considered to be of sound mind. Needless to say, it’s important that your doctor, proxy and loved ones know that you have had a change of heart. Don’t panic if you procrastinate and end up in the hospital before you get around to making formal changes – you can always make your present wishes known verbally. Rest assured that your new instructions will take precedence over your earlier written ones.

Lynn Woods is an author with an interest in health and wellness who has been researching and writing about medications. She believes that everyone should have access to affordable prescriptions, and strongly recommends the

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