Advance medical directives are instructions given by a person in advance while in his full mental faculties regarding his future medical care when his decision making capabilities would be lost. These indicate treatment preferences and can also designate an alternate decision maker in the event the incumbent is rendered incompetent by ailments and other circumstances.
Every state has passed laws on advance medical directives but the legislations are far from uniform. Many of these statutes are restrictive since these stipulate that such instructions on treatment will be followed only for terminally ill patients whose death is inevitable.
Advance medical directives are broadly of three categories: -
Durable Power of Attorney
Health Care Proxy
Patients sometimes execute living wills to indicate or specify the nature of medical treatment desired in case of incapacity. The nature of directions in a living will can range from very broad to specific wishes. Living will may also mention the measures the patient does not desire to be taken in case of major illness. Federal law requires all hospitals and nursing homes to ask for living will at the time of admission of the patient, if any.
Through durable power of attorney the principal empowers an alternate decision maker to perform certain acts or take certain decisions on behalf of the principal while he is medically incapacitated. Unlike a living will, a durable power of attorney cannot compel the doctor to follow the patientís wishes on the nature of treatment. A durable power of attorney may be used alone or along with a living will. Such combinations make the nature of arrangements comprehensive.
A durable power of attorney may also allow the holder to operate bank accounts of the principal, draw checks for payment of the principalís bills, while the principal is medically incapacitated.
Through health care proxy the individual designates another person to take his health care decisions when he would be rendered incapable. In fact the health care proxy has the same rights to ask for or decline any medical treatment like the principal himself if he were in a mentally sound condition.