Advance directive is a general term that describes two kinds of legal documents, living wills and medical powers of attorney. These documents allow a person to give instructions about future medical care should he or she be unable to participate in medical decisions due to serious illness or incapacity. Each state regulates the use of advance directives differently.
Advance Medical Directive (Living Will)
Advance medical directive is a general term that refers to your oral or written instructions about your future medical care, in the event that you become unable to communicate those instructions yourself. An advance directive tells your doctor what kind of care you would like to have if you become unable to make medical decisions (if you are in a coma, for example). This is a document in which a person specifies the kind of life-saving and life-sustaining care and treatment he or she does or does not wish to receive in the event that the person becomes either incapacitated or terminally ill. The Living Will is your own expression of your attitudes and wishes about your health care.
A good advance directive describes the kind of treatment you would want depending on how sick you are. For example, the directives would describe what kind of care you want if you have an illness that you are unlikely to recover from, or if permanently unconscious. Advance directives usually tell your doctor that you do not want certain kinds of treatment. However, they can also say that you want certain treatment no matter how ill you are.
The law about advance directives also varies from state to state. The State of Massachusetts does not specifically have an Advance Medical Directive statute. However, Massachusetts does have a statute allowing for the designation of a health care “proxy” who may make decisions on behalf of the maker should he or she become incapable of participating in his or her own health care decisions.
Health Care Proxy
The Health Care Proxy is important because it names your selection of the person who is to make decisions on your behalf if you cannot do so. You will want your health care agent to communicate the views expressed in the Living Will to your physician to be sure the physician understands your wishes.
In Massachusetts, the Health Care Proxy is statutorily recognized, while the living will is not. The law considers the document good evidence of the patient’s wishes; however, it is not legally binding in Massachusetts.
A Health Care Proxy is legally binding in Massachusetts. A health care proxy is a simple legal form that allows you to name someone of your choice to make decisions about your medical care (including decisions about life support), according to your instructions, if for any reason you become unable to make your own medical decisions.
AARP Advance Directive Information
601 E Street NW
Washington, DC 20049
U.S. Living Wills Registry
523 Westfield Avenue
P.O. Box 2789
Westfield, NJ 07091