Advance Directives/Living Wills
Health Care Proxy/Power of Attorney - Your Right to Direct Your Future Health Care
You have the right to make decisions about your health care, including the right to accept or refuse medical treatment. You also have the right to plan and direct the types of health care you receive if you become unable to express your wishes by making an advance directive.
What is an advance directive?
An advance directive states, in writing, your choices about the treatments you do or do not want and how health care decisions will be made for you if you become unable to express your wishes.
Why make an advance directive?
An advance directive speaks for you when you are unable to do so. It clearly outlines the treatments you do and do not want and appoints the individual who will make health care decisions when you cannot. It may relieve your family of the burden of guessing what you want.
Who makes an advance directive?
You can make an advance directive if you are 18 or older and of sound mind.
How do I make an advance directive?
There are two ways to make a formal advance directive. You can either complete a living will or a power of attorney for health care document. These forms may be available from your health care provider or can be obtained from the Wisconsin Division of Health.
You do not need a lawyer to complete these forms; however, two people must witness your signature to these forms. The forms describe who may or may not be a witness. You may express your wishes using other forms; you do not have to use these formal documents to make an advance directive.
What happens if I don’t make an advance directive?
If you cannot speak for yourself and have not made an advance directive, a doctor will generally look to your family, friends or clergy for decisions about care. If the doctor is unsure, or if your family is in disagreement about the decision, they may ask the courts to appoint a guardian to make decisions for you.
Does my health care provider have to follow my advance directive?
Some health care providers and doctors may have policies or beliefs that prohibit them from honoring certain advance directives. It is important to make these people aware of your wishes and determine if they will honor your advance directives.
Power of Attorney for Health Care
The power of attorney for health care appoints a “health care agent” to make health care decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself. When you complete this form, you allow your health care agent to make a wide range of health care decisions, including whether or not you should have an operation, receive certain medications or receive life support. In some areas, your health care agent is not allowed to make decisions unless you give him or her specific authority when you complete the form.
Because your health care agent will make decisions based on what he or she knows about you and think is best, it is important to choose someone who knows you well and to discuss your treatment preferences with that person.
You can also include specific instructions about the type of treatments you want or do not want (such as surgery or tube feedings) when you complete the form.
A power of attorney for health care form takes effect only when two doctors, or a doctor and a psychologist, agree in writing that you can no longer understand your treatment options or express your wishes to others.
What is a living will?
A living will can inform your physician if you want to die naturally should you develop an incurable illness or untreatable injury. When you are near death or in a vegetative state, it communicates life-prolonging measures that postpone, but do not prevent, death. A living will allows you to refuse treatments or machines that keep your heart, lungs or kidneys functioning when they are unable to function on their own.
A living will takes effect only when two doctors agree in writing that you are either near death and unable to understand or express your health care choices, or are in an irreversible vegetative state.
What is the difference between a living will and a power of attorney for health care?
A living will deals only with the use of life-prolonging measures. It takes effect only when your death is very near or when you are in a vegetative state.
A power of attorney for health care goes into effect when you can no longer make health care decisions. You do not have to be close to death or in a vegetative state. The power of attorney for health care allows another person to speak for you and make health care decisions for you. The type of decision this person can make depends upon the extent of authority you give him or her.
Should I have both a living will and a power of attorney for health care?
It is not necessary to have both a living will and a power of attorney for health care. If you do, you should make sure they do not conflict. If they conflict, a health care provider will follow the power of attorney for health care rather than the living will for all documents completed after Dec. 11, 1991.
What if I change my mind?
You can cancel or replace a living will or a power of attorney for health care at any time. The forms you complete explain methods of cancellation.
Where should I keep my advance directive?
You should keep your advance directive in a safe place where you and others can easily find it. Do not keep it in a safe deposit box. You should make your family members and your lawyer, if you have one, aware of its location. You should also ask your doctor to make your advance directive part of your permanent medical record.
Policy at Affinity Health System
Affinity Health System supports and promotes the use of advance directives — power of attorney for health care and living wills — as documents that assist a person in planning for future health care decisions.
Affinity Health System has pamphlets available describing an adult individual’s right to accept or refuse medical or surgical treatment and to formulate advance directives. Please let your nurse know if you would like any additional information.
We will respect the patient’s right to self-determination and work with the doctor to honor the patient’s decisions. In complying with advance directives, we will not endorse euthanasia or violate the ethical and religious directives of the Catholic Health Association. We will not deny care or otherwise discriminate against an individual based on whether or not the individual has completed an advance directive.
Who can provide additional help?
Your doctor can help you understand your health needs and answer questions about advance directives. You can also contact your lawyer or the following agencies if you have questions about advance directives:
- Wisconsin Division of Health (608) 266-8475
- Economic Justice Institute (608) 262-9143
- Wisconsin Board on Aging and Long Term Care (Ombudsman Program) (608) 266-8944
The Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services, Division of Health helped compile the information on these pages in cooperation with the agencies listed above and below:
- Association of Wisconsin Health Maintenance Organizations
- Catholic Health Association of Wisconsin
- Hospice Organization of Wisconsin
- State Medical Society
- Wisconsin Association of County Homes
- Wisconsin Association of Homes & Services for the Aging
- Wisconsin Association of Medical Directors
- Wisconsin Homecare Association
- Wisconsin Hospital Association