Making Decisions About Your Future Medical Care
Today, health care and medical technology help many people live fuller or longer lives. At times, the use of some medical advances may prolong suffering and the dying process. It is your right to accept or refuse medical care. Advance Directives can protect this right if you ever become mentally or physically unable to choose or communicate your wishes due to accident or illness.
The Patient Self-Determination Act and the Maryland Health Care Decision Act (1993) are laws intended to protect your right to make decisions about your medical care, including the right to accept or refuse treatment. Western Maryland Health System supports and respects your fundamental right to make healthcare decisions.
What is an Advance Directive?
An Advance Directive is a document in which you state what you want to be done if, in the future, you cannot make your own medical decisions. Maryland law recognizes three ways of making health care decisions for the future. They are:
A document in which you tell your doctors, family or others concerned about your medical care, what treatment you would or would not prefer if your condition is considered terminal or a persistent vegetative state as certified by two physicians, and you are no longer competent to make a decision.
Appointment of a Health Care Agent
This is a legal document in which you appoint a person to make decisions about your medical care if you become unable to do so.
Discussion with Physician
You may discuss with your physician your wishes regarding medical treatment for the future. If your decision is written and witnessed in the medical record at the time it is made, it is legally effective.
What Are Some Decisions About My Medical Care That I Should Discuss With My Doctor And Include In My Advance Directive?
You should discuss all aspects of your medical care with your doctor. When preparing an Advance Directive, it is particularly important to talk about life-prolonging treatments such as:
- Resuscitation (CPR) – treatment to restore breath or heartbeat
- Ventilator (Respirator) – a breathing machine to help you breathe if you cannot breathe on your own.
- Food and Fluids – food and water provided through tubes if you are unable to eat on your own.
Frequently Asked Questions
Must I Have an Advance Directive?
No, but it is a good idea to have one so that your doctor, your family, and others know what you want if you ever become unable to make treatment decisions for yourself.
Who can Witness an Advance Directive?
Any competent individual may serve as a witness to any advance directive, including an employee of a healthcare facility or physician caring for the declarant if acting in good faith. Hospital employees will act as a witness when other alternatives are not available. At least one of the witnesses must be an individual who is not knowingly entitled to any portion of the estate of the declarant or knowingly entitled to any financial benefit by reason of the death of the declarant.
Can I Change or Cancel my Advance Directive?
You may change or cancel your Advance Directive at any time. You may do so in writing or orally, but it is essential that those involved in your care, especially your doctor, family or hospital, are informed of any changes to ensure that your wishes are followed.
What Should I Do With My Advance Directive?
Give your doctor a copy of your Advance Directive and discuss your decisions with him/her. Also, bring another copy of your Advance Directive to the hospital at the time of your admission. You should also make your family aware of the existence of your Advance Directives.
Must My Health Care Provider Follow the Wishes I Expressed In My Advance Directives?
As long as your wishes are legal and not in conflict with the policies of the Western Maryland Health System, anyone involved in your care must follow your wishes or try to find someone who will follow your wishes.
When Does An Advance Directive Become Effective?
A Living Will becomes effective only after two doctors certify your condition is terminal, your death is imminent, or you are in a persistent vegetative state without decision-making abilities. An appointment of a health care agent is effective anytime you become incompetent, i.e. lack the understanding or capacity needed to make or communicate decisions concerning your health care.
Which Is Better – A Living Will Or Appointment of a Health Care Agent?
Specific laws from state to state make it advantageous to have one or the other. However, having both a living will and an appointment of a health care agent will ensure that your wishes for medical treatment are carried out.
Do I Need A Lawyer To Make My Advance Directive?
No, a lawyer may be helpful but not necessary in preparing an Advance Directive.
Who Do I Contact If I Have Additional Questions?
If you have additional questions, you may contact the Western Maryland Health System Care Coordination/Social Work Department at 240-964-1090 or WMHS Frostburg Nursing and Rehabilitation Center at 301-689-1391.
West Virginia website: www.wvendoflife.org