beyond the video

Planning Ahead—Advance Medical Directives

Video summary
Recent advances in medical technology have enabled many people to survive circumstances that once were fatal. The downside is that the use of respirators, feeding tubes and other technology does not guarantee quality of life, and many people do not wish to be kept alive by artificial means.

If you want your wishes honored, this video suggests that you take three courses of action:

  1. Discuss your wishes with family members so they are clear about your intent. Often, when someone is admitted to the hospital and unable to speak for himself, doctors will rely on family members to determine the patient's wishes regarding life prolonging measures.
  2. Sign a living will. This is essentially a document that states you do not want artificial nutrition and hydration, CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) or other means of artificial life support at the end of your life. If you are incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself, the living will speaks for you. However, laws vary, so use an advance directive form recognized by your state. (The hospital generally assumes that without such a document, you want all possible means used to prolong your life.)
  3. Sign a durable power of attorney for health care. With this document, you can designate one or more individuals (called proxies or agents) to make healthcare decisions for you whenever you are incapacitated, not just at the end of your life. If you choose to do so, you can also be specific about what procedures (such as surgery or antibiotics) to try under which conditions. For this more complex document, an attorney is advisable.

Once you have these documents, make copies for your physician, family members and healthcare proxies. Also remember that you can make changes in these documents at any time.

You can learn more about advance directives and various state forms with a simple Internet search. The best resource we know for making decisions about end-of-life care, however, is Hank Dunn's Hard Choices for Loving People: CPR, Artificial Feeding, Comfort Care, and the Patient with a Life-Threatening Illness. ( which has sold more than 2,000,000 copies and is being used in more than 5,000 hospitals, nursing homes, faith communities and hospice programs nationwide.

Applying the video to your own situation

  • Have you thought about what life prolonging treatments you would like at the end of your life? Have you made your wishes clear to your family?
  • Do you have a Living Will and/or a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare? If not, please consider getting one as soon as possible.

Adapted from:Advance Medical Directives: Something to Think About... ; Apple A Day Films LLC, Providence, RI

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Beyond the Video

If you are incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself, the living will speaks for you.