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Using Advance Directives to Designate Your Health Care Preferences

A surgical professor at a prominent medical school recently released results from a study assessing the effectiveness of advance directives, also known as “living wills” or “health care directives.” Advance directives are estate planning tools used by people who wish to specify the extent or type of health care they wish to receive if they are unable to convey instructions during a medical emergency.

The study sought to determine whether surgeons who perform high-risk operations follow the written wishes of their patients. A survey of more than 900 doctors who perform high-risk operations revealed that:

  • Nearly 100 percent discuss post-operative life-supporting therapy and poor outcomes possible with the surgery with the patient
  • Only about 50 percent of the surgeons ask about or talk with their patients about advance directives prior to surgery
  • Nearly 54 percent would refuse to operate if the patient? was limited in the use of necessary post-operative care

The study results may concern patients who have specific end-of-life preferences. However, with some planning and the help of a legal professional, you can make your desires known to your family and obtain the medical treatment you want.

Although many believe living wills only give instructions about withholding treatment, directives can be proactive, rather than reactive, and can cover a number of health care issues. With an advance directive, a person can:

  • Designate who will make medical care decisions on his or her behalf if he or she is unable to do so
  • Determine the extent of life-support systems used if in a permanently vegetative state
  • Order his or her health care providers to provide all available medical techniques or treatment options
  • Direct family to take him or her to a medical facility that will provide the type of care desired
  • Choose certain types of medical treatment and reject others

If you wish to help direct decisions made about your health care even in the event you cannot express your preferences at the time, consult with experienced lawyers knowledgeable about estate planning and advance directives.