As most people age and experience health problems, they begin to wonder about the circumstances in which they might become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for themselves. Recognizing this possibility, Oklahoma's lawmakers decided to enable residents to establish legal documents that set out a person's care desires and wishes. Two written documents are of particular interest -- advanced directives for health care and living wills. So how do these documents work?
An advanced directive establishes a person's wishes and an attending physician therefore knows whether life-sustaining treatment should be given in the event the person is unable to make decisions -- usually because the person is not conscious and are unlikely to regain consciousness. The document specifies whether water and food or nutrition should be given by artificial means.
The wishes of family members are eclipsed by the wishes of the person who leaves an advanced directive, although many people choose healthcare proxies to make decisions on their behalf with the assumption these people will know what the patient wanted and will act accordingly.
A living will is part of an advanced directive. It specifies if the person should be kept alive by artificial provision of water and nutrition. The living will is especially concerned with how a patient facing a terminal condition, permanent lack of consciousness or end-stage disease will be treated.
Anyone who is older than 18 and psychologically sound can make an advanced directive and living will. Other issues can also be addressed in a directive, including organ donation.
Although many people find the discussion of death unsettling, if family members and medical staff have some idea about how their loved one want to be treated in their final days, the end can be more peaceful, even if the person facing death has no family members with them.