You have the right to decide what kind of medical treatment you want to receive from doctors and health-care providers. If you can speak up at the time, you can express your wishes yourself. On the other hand, in case you become incapable of communicating because you're ill or injured, you should plan in advance. Designate a person whom you trust to speak for you using an “advance health care directive” (which in Maine includes a "health care power of attorney").
You also have a choice about the kind of document you prefer. You can ask for a short document that simply conveys general authority on your agent to make health-care decisions for you – or you can opt for a longer document that details the specific powers you give to your agent.
For both versions, we offer a checklist to assist you in discussing your wishes with your agent beforehand.
The General Version
This version is short, clear, and easy to understand. It states, generally, that you have given your agent the authority to speak for you. Your agent knows your wishes, because you have discussed those wishes with him or her beforehand.
The Specific Version
A more specific version goes into detail about what you would like your agent to do for you. For example, it includes the request that providers and your agent consult with you if possible. If not possible, it includes a list of procedures that you authorize your agent to decide on your behalf. Included are decisions about what kind of residential facility you want to be placed in, that an agent can visit you and bar others from visiting if appropriate, can advocate for pain relief, can consent to psychiatric treatment, can decide about anatomical gifts and organ donation, and the document provides procedural details about enforcement.
You may also want a separate "Living Will" for end-of-life decisions. This document covers those scenarios in which you can no longer care for yourself, walk, talk, or recognize loved ones, or you are in the final stage of an incurable illness. At that point, you can decline expensive, high-intensity care that likely would not improve quality of life.
Choosing Your Agent
The person you choose to be your health-care agent must be someone you can depend on to have good communication skills, remain calm in difficult situations, and deal flexibly with the complexity that may arise in reconciling your wishes with available medical options. Choose that person carefully. We can help you choose.
Health Care Preferences Checklist
We can offer you a checklist, to help you discuss your wishes with your agent. This conversation is not easy. It can be hard to contemplate a time when our health has declined or we suffer injury or accident. It is also challenging to try to imagine various scenarios involving situations that can be complicated by numerous medical contingencies.
Still, your agent needs to know what you would want in a variety of situations, which can include whether to decline or accept life support and mechanical interventions, when you would opt for or decline surgery, and your preferences about blood transfusions, medication, and religious observance.
The checklist also includes your wishes as to feeding and hydration tubes.
Share your documents with loved ones!
When it comes time to use your documents, if they can't be found, or if your agent or family don't understand them or ignore them, you will have spent your time, effort, and money in vain. Make sure your documents are readily available. Give a copy of them to your agent and ask your doctors to include them in your medical records.
If you prepare advanced directives, you will have done your best to see that your values and health-care choices will be honored. We would be happy to help with these difficult conversations.