Font Size

Advance Directives

What are Advance Directives?

Advance directives center around the principles of your right to die and death with dignity. With an advance directive, you can express how much or how little you want done for you when you are no longer able to make these decisions.

  • Advance directives are a way of making your voice heard when you can no longer communicate. They allow you to appoint someone to make your health care decisions for you when you no longer can and to administer or withhold treatment and procedures based on your previously stated wishes. Advance directives are not just for the elderly. All people who desire to direct their medical care in the future should complete an advance directive.
  • All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws regarding advance directives. Authorities also agree that no difference exists between withholding lifesaving treatment and withdrawing life-support treatment. This is especially important in a situation where someone is resuscitated despite his or her wishes because the advance directive could not be found and the person is put on life support. Once the advance directive is shown to health care professionals, life-support measures can be withdrawn according to the advance medical directive.
  • An advance directive does not mean "do not treat." This is a common misperception and not correct. Of course, if you want it to mean do not treat, then that is something that your surrogate needs to know.
  • Proper execution of an advance directive is a delicate task. A person should discuss this with loved ones and consider personal values and beliefs.
  • It is also impossible to think about all the possible medical and social scenarios that may happen in the future during the course of a disease and person's lifetime. Thus, people often change their minds contrary to their living wills while still capable of making their own decisions. Living wills can be modified to reflect any such changes.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/20/2017

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 learn more >>
Hospital Admissions
Hospital Admissions Sooner or later, you or a loved one will need to be admitted to a hospital. Being well-informed about the hospital admissions process will make what can be a st...learn more >>

How do you write an advance directive?

As you prepare your advance directive, you'll need to follow these four important steps:

  1. Get the living will and medical power of attorney forms for your state. Forms are different in each state, so be sure to get the right ones for where you live.
  2. Choose your health care agent. This should be a person you trust to make decisions for you.
  3. Fill out the forms, and have them witnessed as your state requires.
  4. Give copies to your family, your doctor, and your health care agent.

You can get the forms in a doctor's office, hospital, law office, state or local office for the aging, senior center, or nursing home. You can also get them online at or by calling 1-800-658-8898.

When you write your advance directive, think about the kinds of treatments that you do or don't want to receive if you get seriously hurt or ill.

SOURCE: Healthwise

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