Your Health Care Decisions

Normally, you go to the doctor, they talk to you about what treatment you want (or dont want) and you make up your own mind…

What happens if you’re unconscious or in a coma? Who makes decisions on your behalf? What if you haven’t named an agent? What if no one is there to make decisions on your behalf? Have you given any guidence on what type of life sustaining treatment you may (or may not) want?

These decisions are no doubt difficult ones and it may be impossible to know what you may (or may not) want tomorrow or what the circumstances or medical capabilities might be in the future.  The terminology may also be a bit confusing, do you need a Power of Attorney for Heath Care, a Living Will, an Advance Directive as described below? (For a more detailed discussion of “advance directives” Illinois Legal Aid provides a good description)

While the legal and medical terminology may be confusing, it is important to think about these decisions and put one or more of these planning tools in place.

The following are commonly considered “advance directives” with respect to your health care decisions:

  1. A Power of Attorney for Health Care.  In a Power of Attorney for Health Care you name an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to.  In Illinois, this document carries the most weight if you are unable to make your own decision.  The decision of the agent will be followed unless you have provided limitations to their authority and their decision trumps a Living Will.  This allows you to name a person (or a “line-up” of people) who you trust to make health care decisions on your behalf – generally these are people who you trust to make the decision you would have made for yourself.
  2. Living Will.  In a Living Will you provide instruction on certain life sustaining treatments you may (or may not) want.  If you have not named an agent in a Power of Attorney for Health Care (or none of your agents are available or willing to act), a Living Will gives your care providers some instruction as to your preferences.