Font Size

Advance Directives (cont.)


Advance directives: An advance directive is a written document or series of forms that must be signed to be binding. The documents indicate an individual's choices about medical treatment.

Two types of advance directives are generally completed: a living will and a medical power of attorney (also referred to as designation of a health care surrogate or health care proxy).

  • Living will: This written statement tells health care professionals what type of life-prolonging treatments or procedures to perform if someone has a terminal condition or is in a persistent vegetative state. Living wills should not be confused with a regular will. A living will addresses issues regarding your medical care while you are still living.
  • Medical power of attorney (or designation of a health care surrogate): This legal document allows you to select any person to make medical decisions for you if you should become temporarily or even permanently unable to make those decisions for yourself. This person is also referred to as your attorney-in-fact or durable power of attorney for health care. Most people choose a family member, a relative, or a close friend as their surrogate decision maker. It is important that the designated person knows and understands your wishes and preferences and has a written copy of either your living will or medical power of attorney.

Life-prolonging treatments: These are procedures that are not expected to cure your terminal condition. They generally are used to sustain life. Examples of life prolonging treatments include mechanical ventilator (breathing machine), kidney dialysis, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Terminal condition: A terminal condition is an incurable (without cure) condition that is in its terminal stages.

Persistent vegetative state: This permanent coma or state of being unconscious is caused by injury, disease, or illness. No reasonable expectation of recovery exists.

Do not resuscitate (DNR): This document tells health care professionals and emergency personnel that if your heart stops beating (cardiac arrest) or if you stop breathing (respiratory arrest) that they are not to attempt to revive you by utilizing CPR, chest compressions, intubation, or shocking the heart.

Artificial nutrition and hydration: This procedure is the administration of nutrition and fluids through IV lines and feeding tubes. IV (intravenous) hydration is a common proactice in the hospital by which fluids are delivered into veins. Tube feeding introduces liquid food through a nasal or oral tube into the stomach. Sometimes intravenous (IV) antibiotics are also included in this category. The POLST form (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) addresses the patient's preferences regarding artificial hydration and nutrition. This form can be signed by the patient or their decision maker and the treating physician.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/27/2015

Must Read Articles Related to Advance Directives

End-of-Life Decision Making
End-of-Life Decision Making End-of-life decision making typically involves creating two documents: an advance directive and a durable power of attorney for medical care.learn more >>
Hospital Admissions
Hospital Admissions Hospital admissions information about going to the hospital, being admitted to the hospital, types of admissions, the admission process, your rights as a patien...learn more >>

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) »

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) consists of chest compressions and artificial ventilation used to maintain circulatory flow and oxygenation during cardiac arrest.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

Medical Dictionary