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If I am healthy, why do I need a health care directive?

When you visit your doctor, you two probably discuss your symptoms, the cause of your symptoms, and possible treatment options. Then, you may decide what treatment you feel most comfortable utilizing and share your decision with your doctor.

This routine may work for now, but accidents happen every day. If you are unexpectedly incapacitated, you may not be able to tell your doctor what type of care you do or do not want. However, a health care directive allows you to make your health care wishes known, even when you are incapacitated.

What is a health care directive?

A health care directive is a document that helps you make your wishes regarding health care known. It can do so in two ways.

One way a health care directive can make your wishes known is through an alternative decision-maker. You can use your health care directive to appoint another person, called an agent, to make health care decisions on your behalf. A doctor must determine that you are unable to make your own decisions before your agent will be able to decide for you.

The other way a health care directive can make your wishes known is through your written instructions. You can record your values, your views about certain situations, and specific treatments you may or may not want to receive.

Do health care directives have limitations?

Although your health care directive can help make sure your medical providers follow your wishes, there are a few limitations. For example, a health care directive does not allow you to:

  • Select an agent who is not a legal adult
  • Appoint your doctor as your agent
  • Request treatment that is unreasonable

Unfortunately, you never know if or when you may need a health care directive. Although you may not benefit from it now, it can be prudent to have in case an unexpected accident occurs. If you become incapacitated and you do not already have a health care directive, it will be too late to create one.