Five More Myths About Advance Directives

JANUARY 23, 1995 VOLUME 2, NUMBER 29

I must use a prescribed advance directive form for my state.

In most states (including Arizona) you do not have to us a specific form. Arizona does provide a form to make it easy to prepare a living will and/or a health care power of attorney, but use of that form is not mandatory. Indeed, any form can and should be personalized to reflect the individual’s particular values, priorities and wishes. If you do not agree with the language of the form, change the form.

I need a lawyer to do an advance directive.

While a lawyer may be a helpful resource (but not the only resource, or even the best resource), a lawyer should required. Advance directives are not difficult to complete.

Doctors and other providers are not legally obligated to follow my advance directive.

Medical providers can not treat an individual against his wishes. Consequently, if a physician acts contrary to a patient’s clear instruction (including by living will or by the patient’s health care agent) to the contrary, the physician risks the same liability she would face in treating a fully competent patient. Of course, the physician must know about the advance directive, and it is up to the patient (and his agent) to get copies into the medical record.

The rules may be different for paramedics and emergency room staff. They may be governed by a “prehospital medical care directive.”

If I do not have an advance directive, I can rely on my family to make all my decisions when I am unable.

In Arizona your spouse, then your parents, and then your children, can make most medical decisions even if you do not execute an advance directive. But they can not authorize the removal of feeding tubes or artificially-supplied water, and the agent designated by the statutes may not be your first choice in any event.

Advance directives are for old people.

This is not an issue just for “old people.” Remember that the best-known “right to die” cases involved Nancy Cruzan and Karen Ann Quinlan, both young women in their 20s. The stakes are actually higher for younger persons in that, if tragedy strikes, they might be kept alive for decades in a condition they would not want. An advance directive is an important legal planning tool for all adults.

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