Whether in an emergency or after a life-altering event, there may come a time when you are unable to communicate with your mesothelioma doctor. Yet all adults have the right to consent to or refuse treatment when mentally able to do so. If you can’t speak for yourself, how do you ensure you are getting the treatment you need? One important way is through advanced directives.
What Are Advanced Directives?
Advanced directives help you control your healthcare decisions should you ever be unable to express them. These legally binding documents can be as simple or detailed as needed to address various possible circumstances.
It is important to make sure copies of these documents are provided to your family, physicians, hospitals and other care facilities. In addition, a backup copy should be kept in the home for EMS responders.
There are two main types of advanced directives: a living will and medical power of attorney.
A “living will” instructs healthcare providers on how you want to be treated in certain circumstances or events. Your doctor can use it to determine which mesothelioma (or general) treatment to provide if you are unable to speak or write your wishes.
Items in a living will typically include the major issues people face when they are seriously ill. You might address:
- Do not resuscitate (DNR) orders
- Your preferred use of breathing tubes, feeding tubes or life-prolonging fluids and medications
- When to withdraw life-supporting machines
DNR orders, for example, guide the use of CPR in the event that your heart or breathing stops. Without a living will or other direction, healthcare professionals will perform CPR when it is needed. Along with CPR, some people are placed on a ventilator or other life-supporting device for an extended period of time. Those who do not wish to have these extensive medical treatments implemented or performed can use a DNR order to give specific instructions as to what treatments they do or do not want.
Medical Power of Attorney
Of course, it’s not always possible to consider every outcome of a severe medical event. A living will is helpful for general issues but may not provide enough guidance to doctors and nurses in complex or unforeseen scenarios. For instances such as these, you may benefit from naming a medical power of attorney.
Medical power of attorney (also called a durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions) provides someone the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf. Most people name a spouse or adult child. If there is no spouse or children, a close relative or friend can be named and many times the courts can also appoint someone for you. The important thing is to choose someone you trust who knows your wishes regarding your medical care and treatment.
So, the next step after naming a medical power of attorney is having detailed and open discussions about your wishes. Make sure your appointee and any named successor(s) fully understands your feelings about mesothelioma treatment, end-of-life issues and any life-prolonging treatments you might need.
Note that a medical power of attorney is a specific form of power of attorney. Unless you specifically choose otherwise, they have no legal right to control your money or your property; only medical decisions.
Is an Advanced Directive Right for Me?
Advanced directives aren’t just for people with mesothelioma. In fact, they are recommended for every adult. These documents take effect only if you become unable to communicate your wishes; until then, you have full autonomy over these decisions. The risk to you, therefore, is minimal.
Just one note of caution: The latest version of a living will is the one doctors will use in the event it takes effect. It’s crucial to revisit your living will from time to time to make sure it still reflects your preferences for mesothelioma treatment. Likewise, once you name a medical power of attorney, that person remains in the role until you appoint someone else.
Ultimately, drafting an advanced directive involves deeply personal decisions. Always discuss with loved ones, healthcare providers and legal counsel to figure out what’s best for you.