Medical Power of Attorney, Living Will, Organ and Tissue Donation - It's likely you've seen one or more of these terms. All refer to documents that stipulate your medical treatment choices and are collectively referred to as "Health Care Advance Directives." But, just what are these documents and how can you get them? Below is a brief overview.
Who Will Be Your Health Care Agent?
The first step in planning ahead is to choose the person or persons who will make your medical decisions for you, should you lose the ability to communicate them for yourself. It's important to let the person you would like to be your primary and secondary agent know that you would like to choose them. It's also a good idea to speak with your family and close friends so your agent(s) have their support.
What Types Of Documents Do You Need?
This is where the Health Care Advance Directives come in. The most important ones to begin with exist in three formats in West Virginia and are documents that let you do a number of things. (1) With a Medical Power of Attorney you can name a primary and secondary health care agent who will make medical decisions for you only when you are not able to do so yourself. The secondary agent you select will only make decisions when the first person you select is not available. (2) With a Living Will you can spell out your medical treatment wishes in the event of a life-limiting condition. You can request the use of all available treatments, the stopping of all treatments, or anything in between. Please note that the Living Will differs from a Last Will and Testament. Your Living Will is limited to your health care condition in the event of a life-limiting condition. A Last Will and Testament is not needed by your health care providers. (3) In West Virginia a third document exists that is a combination of a Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will.
Where Do I Start?
It's a good idea to make these decisions and prepare the documents before becoming a patient at a hospital or other health care institution. If you are a West Virginian, a good place to start would be the West Virginia Center for End-of-Life Care
. Visit their website or call them toll free at 877-209-8086
. Advance directive forms are available on the West Virginia Center for End-of-Life website, or if you call they can mail the forms to you. Information about other Health Care Advance Directives is also available on the website.
In West Virginia, you need to have your signatures notarized. Notaries are available at many banks, libraries, and are listed in the telephone book. Do not sign the forms until you are in the presence of a notary. The Social Workers and some other in-house employees at Mon General Hospital are notaries and can assist by witnessing your signature after checking your identification. To make an appointment, call 304-598-1537
. If you are already a patient at Mon General and would like to complete a Health Care Advance Directive(s) during your admission, the forms are available and a Social Worker/in-house notary can notarize your signature after you fill out the directive.
If you reside outside West Virginia, Caring Connections has information and links to state specific documents. Information and documents can be found at www.caringinfo.org.
In addition to the West Virginia Center for End-of-Life Care and Caring Connections, other sources for forms and information include National Health Care Decisions Day
, the Commission on Law and Aging
and Aging with Dignity
What Else Do I Need To Know?
Give a copy of your Health Care Advance Directives to the person(s) you select as your Medical Power of Attorney, your doctors, and any hospital you visit regularly. If you change your Health Care Advance Directives, updated copies should be distributed to the same persons. The advance directive with the most recent date must be the one that is followed.
In West Virginia, you can register your Advance Directives with the West Virginia e-Directive Registry
for free. For more information, call 877-209-8086
. West Virginians and our neighbors from other states can also register documents with companies such as the U.S. Living Will Registry
for a fee. Like the West Virginia e-Directive Registry, they will store and provide copies of your Health Care Advance Directives should they become necessary in a travel or other emergency.