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What is an Advance Health Care Directive, and When Do I Need One?


An advance health care directive is a legal document outlining what medical decisions you want to be made on your behalf if you are unable to make the decisions yourself. They can be useful for doctors and family members in the event you are terminally ill, seriously injured, in a coma, or near the end of life. In Alabama, an advance health care directive executed in another state which follows the laws of that state or of this state is valid.[1]


Possible Decisions

In the event of an emergency, the doctors and medical assistants will urgently attempt any life-saving treatment possible. However, you may have a preference regarding such care. You may execute what is called a living will, which directs the providing, withholding, or withdrawal of life-saving treatment and artificially provided nutrition and hydration.[2] These treatments may include CPR to resuscitation, ventilator use, tube feeding or use of an IV, and comfort care.


Creating an Advance Health Care Directive

In forming your advance health care directive, you may execute a living will that includes a written health care proxy designation. By creating a health proxy designation you are choosing to appoint another person to make decisions regarding your health in the event of a medical emergency.[3] A living will allows you to explain in writing the treatment you wish to receive, or not receive, in the event of a medical emergency.[4] Alternatively, choosing to include a health care proxy gives someone else the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf.[5] Choosing a proxy is an important decision and it should be an individual you trust completely. It would also be important to have discussions of your wishes with this individual so that they understand your preferences.


When Do I Need an Advance Health Care Directive?

Although it is tempting to assume you do not need an advance health care directive until you have entered the later seasons of life, an unexpected medical emergency can occur at any time. An advance health care directive not only ensures that your preferences are honored but can also provide your family with comfort through a difficult time. By taking the time to plan now, your loved ones have guidelines to follow in case of a future event.

[1] Ala. Code §22-8A-12 [2] Ala. Code § 22-8A-4 [3] Ala. Code § 22-8A-4(b) [4] Id. [5] Id.

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