Palliative Care/What is an Advanced Health Care Directive?

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An advance directive is a legal document that ordinary people can complete to explain the kinds of medical treatments they would wish to receive, or not receive, when they can no longer speak for themselves.

Each state has its own laws defining the form advance directives can take and what medical decisions they can address. One common form is the living will, which can specify your preferences about certain kinds of life-sustaining treatments. Another is the durable power of attorney (otherwise referred to as health care proxy or agent), which names a trusted family member or friend to speak for you if you are unable to speak for yourself.

Advance directives are legal documents that specify your wishes if you become unable to speak for yourself.

Several studies in recent years have found that when doctors have end-of-life discussions with patients and families, patients have less anxiety. Published last October in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one study found that when terminally ill patients had end-of-life counseling, it enhanced the quality of their final days.

“Less aggressive care and earlier hospice referrals were associated with better patient quality of life near death,” wrote the authors. Moreover, the researchers found family members and caregivers who did not participate in the discussions “experienced worse quality of life, more regret, and were at higher risk of developing a major depressive disorder.”