Advance Medical Directives
To begin, let’s clarify the vocabulary
An “Advance Medical Directive” has been confusingly referred to as a “Living Will” for quite some time. The term “Living Will” is misleading, though. Specifically, the document has to do with dying, not living. It isn’t a Will, and it isn’t a Living Trust, which are both mostly property-related documents. Further, Wills and Living Trusts have nothing to do with your active and ongoing medical decisions.
Forget the term “Living Will.” Do away with the confusing vocabulary. Use the term “Advance Medical Directive” (AMD).
As its name suggests, when you prepare an AMD document, you make medical decisions today and you direct your healthcare providers to act according to those decisions in the future. Typically, AMD decisions involve scenarios in which you are diseased or injured to such an extent that you have no medically-ascertainable chance of survival. When you are brain dead. When you are on artificial electronic life-support, and you could not survive without it.
In those situations, if you had previously prepared an AMD, you could have directed your doctors to use only those medical treatments that might maintain your body’s comfort, and, ultimately, to “pull the plug.” It does sound callous, but an AMD is effectively a “pull the plug” document.
An AMD does not govern what happens to you in the event of temporary incapacity. In most cases, when you are temporarily incapacitated, you are simply unable to make independent medical decisions even though you might have very good chances for full recovery (e.g., if you are in a coma or recovering from a serious surgery.) In those cases, your spouse or the agent you designated in your Medical Power of Attorney document will make medical decisions for you.
What, then, does your Medical Power of Attorney agent do in the event that you are beyond just temporarily incapacitated? In the event that you are brain dead with no hope for survival?
If you have prepared an AMD, your Medical Power of Attorney agent doesn’t need to do anything at all.
That is the beauty of an AMD.
It totally relieves the stresses and pressures felt by your family members in the event that they have to make the uncomfortable “pull the plug” decision. You have already made that decision. Not only did you make it for yourself, but you made it for them.
If you hadn’t prepared an AMD, however, then your family members or you Medical Power of Attorney agent will have to agonize over the miserable decision of “pulling the plug.”
An AMD is an intimidating document because it forces you to confront your own mortality. It is an important document, though, because it can preemptively relieve a lot of physical and emotional pain.