What is an advance directive?

An advance health care directive, or “advance directive”, is a legal document that tells the doctor your wishes about your health care. Advance directives can be general, with very few directions about your care. The directive may just name a substitute person (proxy) to make these decisions for you if you are unable to do so. Or it may include instructions along with the proxy selection.

Advance directives can also be very detailed, and can clearly outline the different types of life-sustaining treatments you would accept or refuse in certain situations. Some types of advance directives are limited to certain situations, like the living will, organ or tissue donation, or your wishes not to be revived (resuscitated) if your heart or breathing stops. No matter which kind you use, no one will be able to control your money or other property based on your advance directive. It may also help to know that you can also change or revoke (take back) these directives at any time.

Who should have an advanced directive?

Everyone 21 years of age and older should have an advanced directive. The best time to make an advance directive is before you need one! Adults have the right to control their medical treatment as long as they are mentally able to do so. You can choose which course of treatment you would like from those the doctor offers. You can choose the kind of treatment (aggressive, comfort care, or even none). This right is called “informed consent”, and every state recognizes it.

Why do I need an advanced directive?

You have a right to be informed and decide for yourself. Informed consent means that the doctor or nurse explains the purpose, benefits, risks and alternatives of the treatment before you decide whether you choose to do it. In most cases, treatment can be given only if you agree to it. Still, this right is not absolute; for example, if you are unable to take in information or give consent and you need immediate or emergency care, the doctor may go ahead and provide treatment. It is also generally accepted that a competent (mentally able) adult may refuse medical treatment that keeps him or her alive. A competent adult patient may also ask that such treatments be stopped, even if he or she dies as a result. Informed consent includes the right to refuse treatment, which is sometimes called “informed refusal”.

When should I change my advance directive?

You may change or revoke your advance directive at any time while you are competent to do so. It is recommended that you review your advance directive at least every 10 years and update it if needed. Be sure to do this if:

• You have major health change or are diagnosed with a serious illness
• You go through a divorce
• You experience the death of a loved one
• You have a decline in an existing health condition, especially if it makes it harder for you to live on your own.

Changes should be signed, dated and witnessed. You should tell your proxy or agent, loved ones, and doctor if you change or cancel your advance directive. You should also destroy all copies of the old advance directive so there is no confusion on the part of your proxy or your family. Some states require that you notify your doctor in writing when you make changes to your advance directive.

Do I need a lawyer to write my advance directive?

A lawyer can be helpful; however you do not need a lawyer to write your advance directive. Some states have required forms, and all states have certain requirements. Sample forms and directives that meet your state’s requirements may be available. To obtain information on getting a state form for advanced directives visit www.caringinfo.org.

Where can I obtain a Georgia advance directive?

There are many websites that refer to advance directives. However the website with the most up-to-date information for Georgia residents is www.aging.dhr.georgia.gov

Last Medical Review: 6/28/2011
Last Revised: 6/28/2011

Information obtained from www.cancer.org