Living wills and advance medical directives
By Patte Smith with information provided by the Colorado Bar Association
Individuals, no matter the age, may benefit from having a living will and an advance medical directive. These legal documents are written instructions stating a person’s preference for medical care if someone is unable to make a decision for him/herself.
In Colorado, a Declaration as to Medical or Surgical Treatment, referred to as a living will, is a legal document that informs families and medical personnel of an individual’s personal choices about end-of-life medical treatment. At a very stressful time, the directive helps family members who are struggling to avoid conflict and to follow the patient’s decision to continue a life-sustaining procedure or to discontinue treatment. Under Colorado law, a “life-sustaining procedure” is any medical procedure that only serves to prolong the dying process, including CPR, defibrillation, medications and surgery.
Living wills are most beneficial if reviewed every few years, especially if an individual’s life circumstances and health issues have changed.
Advance directives guide family members and medical personnel to make essential decisions during a crisis, ensuring that a patient’s health care decisions are followed if they are incapacitated. When hospitalized with a life threatening illness or injury, many hospitals ask the patient or family members for a copy of the advance directive. In some instances, hospitals may provide a short form for a coherent patient to decide about hospitalized life decisions. A hospitalized patient is not required to have an advance directive to receive care.
There are five primary types of advance directives.
- Living will
- Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order to prevent cardiopulmonary resuscitation efforts
- Medical and healthcare power of attorney
- Disposition of last remains declarations
- Organ and tissue donation declarations
An advance medical directive document may incorporate several of these directives. Signing an advanced medical directive does not take away a person’s right to make medical decisions if he/she is able. It does, however, allow the family and medical personnel to carry out the advance directive orders if a patient is unable to communicate.
For more information, visit the Colorado Bar Association website, https://www.cobar.org/. The website has forms and brochures about living wills. There is also a brochure with key information about advance medical directives.