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Be A Smart Patient: Making Legal Decisions To Protect Yourself And Your Family

Most of the articles I've written for have been about advocacy, advocating for a loved one in the hospital to prevent medical errors and more. This article is about advocacy for oneself in a different form.

I've harped on the importance of being an advocate for a hospitalized loved one, especially parents, because when a patient is ill or injured it is very difficult for him or her to oversee and monitor medical care, much less keep track of conversations with nurses and doctors. In much the same way, we must prepare now for later in life in case we are ever seriously ill, injured or cannot speak for ourselves. These are uncomfortable issues to talk about and most of us don't even like to think about them. But I believe that preparation of documents such as Advance Directive, Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare is the ultimate act of advocacy for oneself.

These legal documents ensure that you will receive the kind of medical care you want if you become very ill or seriously injured. If you create these documents with the help of an attorney or legal organization you will be in the driver's seat regarding what happens to you if you are incapable of directing your medical care.

You must make your wishes known. Advance Directive, Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare prevent loved ones from having to make very stressful decisions they are not prepared for and ensures that you will not end up in a situation you are opposed to in the event of a medical emergency, serious injury or serious illness.

Now is the time to create and prepare these documents when you are healthy, not when you are sick or injured.

My mother and godmother were in the hospital for extended stays and I know in my heart that neither of them would have wanted what happened to them, if they had known ahead of time. Everything medically was done to prolong their lives, which in the end prolonged their suffering. My mother was in the hospital for five months, on full life support for several of those months, and my godmother was in the hospital for seven months, also on full life support for several of those months. Now, these are extreme situations, but if you have ever witnessed a loved one's suffering and were unable to do anything about it, you know you would never want that for yourself. You also know that you would never want to put your spouse, partner or children in that position either.

Right after my mother passed away, I marched myself down to my attorney's office to create all the necessary documents. I was determined never to allow myself be in the same position my mother or godmother were, and I certainly did not want my family struggling with stressful decisions around my medical care. If I am sick or injured, they are going to be stressed enough.

Advance Directive, Living Will, DNR and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare were surprisingly easy to create. I was relieved to see how much flexibility I was allowed with each one, and I found that I had quite a bit of control over what will happen to me.

Do this out of love for yourself and for your family. Why not prepare now while you are healthy and have the time? Executing these documents is an act of protection for you and your loved ones. Everyone's wishes are personal, and you can revisit and revise these documents throughout your lifetime.

A Respected Surgeon's Perspective

"Families often have a hard time discussing end-of-life issues and this can lead to treatment that the patient would not have wanted, or inappropriate treatment that would prolong the patient's death rather than prolonging their life," explains Karen Blanchard, MD.

What To Do

  1. Advanced Directive. With the help of an attorney or legal organization, create this document to state your choice for what kind of medical treatment and intervention you want in the face of serious illness or serious injury. This avoids confusion later on.
  2. Living Will. This is a document where you state the kind of life-prolonging medical care you want if you become terminally ill, permanently unconscious or are unable to make your own decisions.
  3. Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare. This is another kind of advanced directive. It names another person to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to.
  4. DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) is a document that states that you do not want resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops beating or you stop breathing.
  5. Talk to Your Primary Care Physician. Discussing your wishes with your PCP, internist or family physician is extremely important. Offer to give him or her copies of these documents so this doctor will know what to do for you.
  6. Talk to a Trusted Loved One. Discuss your wishes with your spouse, partner or close family member about what you want for yourself if in the event of a medical emergency, serious illness or injury.


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