Living Will, Advance Directive, Health Care Power of Attorney ... What's the difference?
Much has been written these days about how you need a Living Will, or Advance Directive, or Health Care Power of Attorney to protect you. The fact is that every adult has the right to make his or her own health care decisions - whether you have the ability to contemporaneously articulate that decision or not. The corollary to that is that if you don't make your own health care decisions, somebody else will make them for you - and they may not be the decisions that you would have made.
The terms "Living Will", "Advance Directive" and "Health Care Power of Attorney" are often used interchangeably. Essentially, a complete document will contain the following:
- An expression of your wishes of the type of care you want to receive in a terminal situation. This may be done through a parenthetical description or through a list where you initial the decisions you would like made on your behalf.
- The appointment of a Health Care Representative to act on your behalf in making health care decisions. This is the person who will direct the medical staff as to your care based on your expressed wishes.
- A statement that your Health Care Representative is authorized to receive your "Protected Health Information" under HIPAA. HIPAA is relatively recent legislation that enacted broad changes in the area of medical privacy. For more information, click here.
In creating a Living Will or similar document, you should be aware that the most important thing you are doing is nominating another person, your Health Care Representative, to make decisions on your behalf. It would be impossible for you now to go through a list of the precise medical care you would and would not want - you need to name a trusted person to make those decisions for you. By making a statement to your Health Care Representative of the care you would and would not want in a terminal situation, you are allowing him or her to act knowledgeably on your behalf. As your Health Care Representative will be close to you, making a statement about what you would want may make it easier for them to act on your behalf.