A medical directive is a document that outlines your wishes with regard to health care. It provides direction to medical professionals regarding your treatment in the event you are unable to speak communicate. In addition to giving physicians an idea about your treatment preferences, medical directives can also help your family make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.
What you decide to ultimately include on your medical directive is a personal matter, and will likely differ from what, say, your husband, wife or close friend will include on theirs. However, there are some common items many people choose to:
A person to make health care-related decisions on your behalf
Many people use medical directives to name a trusted individual as their health care agent. This person will be tasked with making treatment-related decisions on your behalf. For example, you may want your spouse to make all health care decisions. Or, if you are older, you may feel the task would be better left to one of your adult children. When choosing a health care agent, you want to name someone you trust, someone who understands your family and medical history and someone you believe can handle the responsibility.
Whether you want life support, should such circumstances arise
Obviously, if you have a condition requiring life support, you are not going to be able to make your personal preferences known to your doctors and family members. This is where the medical directive comes into play. The document can dictate whether you want to go on life support if you experience an illness or injury that is incurable and are unable to communicate.
Your preferences regarding certain treatment methods
Just as your medical directive can offer clarity about whether you want life support, it can also dictate whether you want other treatment methods doctors may want to use to improve your condition or save your life. For example, you can outline whether you want to undergo dialysis, use antibiotics or utilize machines that can help you breathe.
Ultimately, a medical directive ensures that your wishes regarding health care are carried out, and provides guidance to your family so they know they are making decisions that align with your wishes.