An advance healthcare directive, sometimes called a “living will,” protects your right to choose what medical treatments you do and do not want when you reach the end of your life. You have a legal right to refuse any type of treatment, but an advance directive may be necessary to convince doctors and hospital staff that you have chosen to refuse it.
Ideally, your advance directive would cover every likely scenario and contain a detailed description of what you want and don’t want. However, that may be difficult to achieve. Putting a detailed, enforceable advance directive in place requires hard thought. It may also require clear communication with your loved ones and caregivers.
Have you considered dementia?
Although dementia, which includes Alzheimer’s disease, is considered a terminal illness, few people think carefully about how they should be treated in its later stages. Yet people want the option to refuse invasive treatment where the sole purpose is to extend life. Many people would prefer minimal interventions, especially in advanced cases.
If you were in the late stages of dementia, would you want to be put on a ventilator, if it would save your life? Would you want to have costly and dangerous surgery?
Many people would like to receive palliative care during late-stage dementia, which generally includes food, water and pain medication. On the other hand, others would choose not to continue to receive nutrition and medicine after a certain point. If this describes you, what is that point?
The time to make these decisions is now, while you’re healthy. Sit down with your loved ones for a frank discussion of what you envision for yourself should this scenario — and other scenarios — come to pass. Communicate your wishes clearly so that your family doesn’t inadvertently oppose your wishes.
Then, with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, incorporate your decisions into a clear, well-drafted advance directive. This will help ensure that your medical staff is aware of your wishes and understands what you have decided for yourself.