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Your Questions Answered: "Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney"

Q: Aren???t Living Wills or Health Care Powers of Attorney just for older people?

A: It is important for anyone over age 18 to think about filling out one or both of these documents. Serious illness or injury can strike at any stage of life. A Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney will help to ensure that your wishes regarding life-sustaining treatment are followed regardless of age, and that when you are no longer able to voice your own wishes, your prior decisions are followed or made for you by the person you choose.

Q: Can I include the fact that I wish to donate my organs after death through a Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney?

A: The best way to ensure that your organs will be donated after death is to complete the Donor Registry Enrollment Form included in this packet.

Q: If I state in my Living Will that I don???t want to be hooked up to life support equipment, will I still be given medication for pain?

A: Yes. A Living Will affects only care that artificially or technologically postpones death. It would not affect care that eases pain. For example, you would continue to be given pain medication and other treatments necessary to keep you comfortable. The same is true with a Health Care Power of Attorney. The person you name to make your health care decisions would not be able to order the withholding of treatments that provide you comfort or alleviate pain.

Q: If I have a Living Will, won???t my physician be more likely to give up on me if I become really sick?

A: No. Physicians have a duty to maintain life as long as there is hope of recovery. A Living Will simply allows you to determine how much life-sustaining treatment you wish to receive in order to postpone dying once two physicians have determined that you will not recover.

Q: Which is better to have, a Living Will or a Health Care Power of Attorney?

A: Actually, it is a good idea to fill out both documents because they address different aspects of your medical care. A Living Will applies only when you are terminally ill and unable to communicate your wishes or if you are permanently unconscious. A Health Care Power of Attorney becomes effective even if you are only temporarily unconscious and medical decisions need to be made. For example, if you were to become temporarily unconscious due to an accident or surgery, the person you name in your Health Care Power of Attorney could make medical decisions on your behalf. If you have both documents and become terminally ill and unable to communicate or become permanently unconscious, the Living Will would be followed since it speaks to your wishes in these situations.

Q: When does a Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney become effective?

A: A Living Will becomes effective if you are terminally ill and unable to express your wishes regarding health care or if you are permanently unconscious. In both cases, two physicians, not just one, must agree that you are beyond medical help and will not recover. If you have indicated that you do not want your dying to be artificially prolonged and two physicians say that there is no reasonable hope of recovery, your wishes will be carried out.

A Health Care Power of Attorney becomes effective whenever you lose the ability to make your own decisions, even if only temporarily. At these times, health care decisions will be made by the person you designate.

Q: Can I draft a Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney that says if I become critically ill, I want everything possible done to keep me alive?

A: Yes. But you can???t use the standard forms in this packet. You would need to speak with an attorney about drafting a special document. You also may want to discuss this approach with your personal physician.

Q: If I name someone in my Health Care Power of Attorney to make decisions for me, how much authority does that person have and how can I be certain that he or she is doing what I want done?

A: The person you name as your attorney-in- fact has the authority to make decisions regarding aspects of your medical care if you become unable to express your wishes. For this reason, you should tell the person you name how you feel about life-sustaining treatment, being fed through feeding and fluid tubes, and other important issues.

Also, it is important to remember that a Health Care Power of Attorney is not the same as a financial Power of Attorney, which you might use to give someone authority over your financial or business affairs.

Q: If my condition becomes hopeless, can I specify that I want my feeding and fluid tubes removed?

A: Special instructions are needed to allow for the removal of feeding or fluid tubes if you become permanently unconscious and if the feeding and fluid tubes aren???t needed to provide you with comfort.

If you want to make certain that the tubes are removed should you become permanently unconscious, you need to place your initials on the space provided on the Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney form. If you don???t want the tubes removed when you are permanently unconscious, then don???t initial the forms.

Q: Do I have to use the standard forms for a Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney or can I draw up my own documents?

A: The enclosed forms, which were produced jointly by the Ohio State Bar Association, the Ohio State Medical Association, the Ohio Hospital Association and the Ohio Hospice & Palliative Care Organization, comply with the requirements of Ohio law, but you do not have to use these forms. You may wish to consult an attorney for assistance in drafting a document or you may draft your own. However, in either case, the documents must comply with the specific language spelled out in the Ohio Revised Code.

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