At some point in your life, you may be unable to make health care decisions due to a medical crisis that incapacitates you. Such a crisis can affect you at any age. For example, you could experience a traumatic brain injury in a car accident when you are otherwise in the prime of life.
An advance directive is an estate planning document that allows you to outline the types of medical care you do or do not want to receive in the event that you can no longer make those decisions for yourself. The National Institute on Aging suggests the types of treatments you should make decisions about when creating an advance directive.
1. Artificial hydration and nutrition
If you are unable to drink water, intravenous fluids can keep you hydrated. Feeding tubes inserted into your nose or directly into your stomach can provide nutrition if you are unable to feed yourself. This can be helpful if you are recovering from an accident, but if you are dying, it may not prolong your life and could even damage your body.
2. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation
CPR may restart your heart or your breathing if either fails. Doctors typically have an ethical obligation to attempt to resuscitate you if possible. However, if you would prefer to die when your heart starts beating, you can include do not resuscitate instructions in your advance directive.
3. Artificial ventilation
A ventilator is a machine that helps you breathe artificially by forcing air into a tube inserted down your throat. If you prefer to stop breathing rather than receive artificial ventilation, you can include do not intubate instructions in your advance directive.
When you are unable to make your own health care decisions, the responsibility shifts to family members, which can be a heavy burden to bear. Creating an advance directive relieves this burden and improves the chances of your receiving the care you desire.