An advance medical directive, also sometimes called an advance health care directive, or living will is a legal document that gives you control over who makes medical decisions during times when you cannot make them for yourself because of incapacity, serious illness, or an accident. These directives allow an individual, known legally as the declarant, to specify what his or her health care wishes are, how they should be carried out, and who can make decisions on their behalf. This relieves a great deal of stress both from family members and physicians as the medical decisions can be made in advance by the patient themselves. If you don’t have an advance medical directive and name someone you trust to oversee your care, important health care decisions may be placed in the hands of family members, doctors, or even possibly judges, who may know very little about you, your wishes, and what type of care you would want. In Virginia, advance medical directives are authorized under the Virginia Health Care Decisions Act. To be legally binding, an advance medical direct must be in writing and signed by the declarant in the presence of two witnesses who also sign the directive. An advance medical directive should include the following three sections:
- End of life care instructions: what treatments the declarant does or does not authorize with regard to his or her health care
- Appointment of a healthcare agent or third party to enforce the directive and make healthcare decisions for the declarant when he or she can no longer make them.
- Decisions as to anatomical gifts for organ and tissue donation.
What are the benefits of advance medical directives?There are several benefits to creating an advance medical directive.
- You can make your own health care decisions about your eventual care in advance.
- Your directive and agent will speak for you and be your voice once you no longer can speak for yourself.
- You can update, edit, or change your directive at any time.