An advance directive is a written document that lets you plan for your medical care when you can’t make decisions for yourself. Outside of Vermont, an advance directive is sometimes called a durable power of attorney for health care, a health care proxy, a living will or a terminal care document.
An advance directive lets you:
- pick someone to make health care decisions for you (your “agent”)
- write down what kind of medical care you want and don’t want
- decide the kind of treatments you want for end of life care
- list who you would want to be your guardian, if you need one
- say how you would want your family to be involved in your care in the future
- give burial or cremation instructions
- decide to be an organ donor
Everyone should have an advance directive. An advance directive is not just for seniors or people at the end of life. An advance directive can help you any time you can't make medical decisions for yourself.
No Vermont law says that your spouse or other next of kin can make medical decisions for you. So if you want your spouse or next of kin to make medical decisions for you, you should name that person as your agent in an advance directive.
You have the right to make any medical decisions for yourself – as long as you are able to communicate your wishes. Your agent can make health care decisions for you only when you can't make medical decisions for yourself or when you say that you want your agent to start making the decisions.
All medical providers are required to follow your advance directive. Your agent should make decisions for you based on what you wrote down in your advance directive or what you have said you want. If you did not write down any treatment wishes, your agent should try to make the decisions that you would have made for yourself.
If you have a serious medical condition, you may need a DNR/COLST. That stands for Do Not Resuscitate Order and Clinician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment. It is a document signed by your doctor or other medical clinician which sets out what life-sustaining treatment you want and whether you want a Do Not Resuscitate Order. It will be followed by other doctors and emergency medical personnel whether or not you are in a medical facility. It is one way to ensure that your advance directive is followed if you have a medical emergency.