April 16th is National Health Care Decision Day, but any day is a good day to consider who would make a health care decision for you in the event you do not have the ability to make it yourself.
If a physician believe that you do not have the ability to give informed consent to a procedure, or to understand the nature of a health care decision, then the person you name in an advanced directive, called your “surrogate” can make the decision for you.
All of these terms have a legal meaning as outlined under Chapter 765 of the Florida Statues. The statue reads that “every competent adult has the fundamental right of self-determination regarding decisions pertaining to his or her own health, including the right to choose or refuse medical treatment”. Your surrogate can not only make health care decisions for you, when you can’t, but can also receive health information from your physician(s) in order to be better informed about your care.
Within an advanced directive you can also make give direction regarding end of life decisions. These decisions, which your Surrogate can carry out, reflect your wishes regarding when to use, withdraw, or withhold life prolonging procedures. Typically called a “Living Will” these instructions guide your surrogate and your physician as to your wishes if you are terminal, end-stage, or in a vegetative state with no chance of recovery. These types of decisions are very personal, so when you do an advanced directive, you should have a conversation with your named surrogate and any alternate Surrogates you might name in the document about your wishes and feelings.
My experience shows me that most people want to die at home, surrounded by loved ones, and as pain free as possible. However, few have this experience and most pass away in a hospital or in a skilled nursing facility. Educating yourself about your rights, clearly expressing your wishes in a legal document, and knowing what options you have at the end of life, can increase your chances of doing it your way.
As an elder law attorney, I can advise you and help you write an Advanced Directive with living will provisions that will accurately reflect your wishes, allow your surrogate access to important medical information, and give you peace of mind.