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Advance Directives and How They Can Empower Patient Autonomy

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People discussing legal papers

Advance directives are a combination of a living will and a health care proxy. They clearly state your health care choices and give someone authority to make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to communicate your decisions.


“While 92% of Americans say it’s important to discuss their wishes for end-of-life care, only 32% have had such a conversation. 95% of Americans say they would be willing to talk about their wishes, and 53% even say they’d be relieved to discuss it” (The Conversation Project National Survey, 2018).


More people are considering advance care planning so they can communicate their wishes before it’s too late. That said, it’s a difficult thing to do. No one wants to think about the end of their lives, and it’s often also thought of as a taboo subject. But it will give you peace of mind and take the burden off your loved ones and health care teams.


Rest assured that your ability to make your own choices won’t be taken away from you too soon. Before your living will can be used to make decisions on your behalf, two physicians must certify that you are unable to make these decisions and that you are in a condition that qualifies for your state’s living law to take effect, such as a terminal illness or permanent unconsciousness (National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, n.p.). Also, if you regain your decision-making abilities, your chosen proxy and living will cannot continue to act on your behalf.


You don’t need to have a lawyer to create an advance directive, but you do need to have it signed in front of a witness. Laws vary from state to state, but advance directives are legally valid in the U.S.


Getting the ball rolling by starting the conversation is often the hardest part. We’ve included a few informative resources that include ideas for how to start the process of creating your advance directive, as well as all the detailed information you need to know to complete one.