All patients have the right to make their own medical decisions, through informed decision-making with their physician. Patients also have the right to communicate those decisions in a written document called an Advance Directive. Patients complete these documents while they are competent and can voice their decisions. Advance Directives only become effective if the patient loses the capacity or competency to communicate. These documents help physicians know the medical treatments the patient wants or does not want and they relieve family members of the burden of making difficult medical decisions during a loved one’s illness. They are legal documents. A properly completed Advance Directive can ensure that the patient’s end-of-life wishes are honored.
The two main Advance Care Planning documents are the Medical Power of Attorney and the Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates. The Out-Of-Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate Order is another document that should be discussed with your physician. The names of these documents may vary from state to state. Links to these documents are below.
As a Catholic health system, CHRISTUS Health supports a patient’s right to complete Advance Directives. Honoring a patient’s wishes at the end of life is essential to respecting their dignity as a human being.
What is an Advance Directive?
Advance Directives are legal documents that allow you to state your healthcare wishes in writing. They only become effective if you are unable or not competent to state those wishes for yourself.
What is a Medical Power of Attorney?
A Medical Power of Attorney allows you to name another person to make your medical decisions if you are unable to make your wishes known.
What is a Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates?
The Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates allows you to state your healthcare wishes. It is often called a “Living Will”. It typically states your wishes about life-sustaining treatment. It only becomes effective if your physicians determine you are in a terminal or irreversible condition.
Who should fill out a Directive to Physicians or Medical Power of Attorney?
Advance Care Planning documents are important legal documents that should be completed by every competent adult over the age of 18.
What is an Out-of-Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate Order (OOHDNR)?
This document allows you to choose if you wish to be resuscitated if your heart stops or you stop breathing. It is often confused with the Directive to Physicians. The OOHDNR becomes effective if your heart stops or you stop breathing. The Directive to Physicians becomes effective if you are unable to communicate competently and are in a terminal or irreversible condition.
What should I do with these documents after I fill them out?
These are your documents and should be kept at home. Make sure they are easily accessible in an emergency. Keep extra copies to take to the hospital if necessary.
Who should have copies of my Advance Directive documents?
Be sure to give copies of all Advance Directives to:
- Your designated Medical Power of Attorney and designated alternates.
- Family members.
- Your primary care provider and other specialist care providers.
Always take copies with you to the hospital regardless of the reason for admittance so the documents can be scanned into your electronic medical record.
Will my Advance Directives be honored in another state?
The laws in each state about Advance Directives are different. However, the American Bar Association says no health care provider has ever refused to honor a properly executed Advance Directive from another state.
What if I am out of town and do not have access to my Advance Directives?
Accidents can happen anywhere. It is important to be able to access your Advance Directives if you are traveling. Some people travel with hard copies. Some scan their documents to their cell phone. Your primary care physician can also fax copies to a hospital with a signed release of medical records. Make sure to complete the In Case of Emergency/Medical ID template on your cell phone. First responders can access that without logging into your phone in an emergency.
What does the Catholic Church say about Advance Directives?
As a Catholic health system, CHRISTUS Health follows the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs). The ERDs describe the importance of following a patient’s wishes, including those in an Advance Directive. See ERDs 24, 25, and 28. You can read more about Church teaching on end-of-life decisions in the links below.
For more information:
Download Advance Care Planning Documents: