An advanced directive is a legal document that goes into effect only if you are incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself. It helps others know what type of medical care you want. There are two main elements in an advance directive—a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care.

Sometimes decisions must be made about the use of emergency treatments to keep you alive. Health care professionals can use several artificial or mechanical ways to try to do this, including:

  • CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)
  • Ventilator use
  • Artificial nutrition (tube feeding) and artificial hydration (IV, or intravenous, fluids)
  • Comfort care

Start by thinking about what kind of treatment you do or do not want in a medical emergency, as well as your personal values. Do you want to live as long as possible under any circumstance? Or do you want to focus on quality of life? An advance directive also allows you to express your wishes related to end-of-life care.

After you have completed your advance directive, talk about your decisions with your loved ones, health care proxy and your doctor. This way, they are not surprised by your wishes if there is an emergency.