• Advance medical directive eases uncertainty

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  • Legal Assistance Office
    The term “advance medical directive” is a general term that describes two kinds of legal documents — living wills and medical powers of attorney.
    These documents allow people to give instructions about their future medical care, should they be unable to make those decisions themselves because of serious illness or incapacity. Each state regulates the use of advance medical directives differently.
    A living will is a declaration directing that a physician withhold or withdraw life-sustaining procedures when the patient is in a terminal condition. Most living will forms ask the declarant to state his or her intentions regarding withholding each of a list of life-sustaining procedures under circumstances of terminal illness or permanent unconsciousness.
    Under both Missouri and Kansas law, the responsibility falls on the patient to notify his or her attending physician of the existence of a living will and request that it be placed in his or her medical records.
    A medical power of attorney is a durable power of attorney that designates a surrogate decision-maker during times when a patient is unable to make his or her own decisions. This power of attorney remains in effect only during the grantor’s incompetency and relates only to health care decisions. The named agent is usually a loved one who knows the patient’s wishes and has discussed them with the patient. All medical decisions of the incapacitated patient are deferred to the health care agent.
    When a patient becomes seriously ill and is no longer able to communicate whether he or she wants to continue treatment, the patient’s family and physician often must make decisions based on what they think the patient might want. Living wills and medical powers of attorney help to clear any uncertainty in this area by allowing the patient to state in advance what the patient wants should he or she become unable to communicate his or her desires.
    For more information on advance medical directives or for drafting an advance medical directive, call 684-4944 or visit the Fort Leavenworth Legal Assistance Office.
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