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What are advance directives?

If you are an adult with the capacity to make decisions for yourself, you always have the legal right to request treatments, accept or reject medical treatments offered, and change your mind about your medical treatments. But what if you are unable to communicate or make your own decisions? This may happen if you are very sick, or unconscious (including during a surgery), have dementia, or have another temporary or permanent medical condition. If a patient can’t voice their own decisions, the medical team (doctors, nurses, etc.) will refer to a patient’s advance directives.

Advance directives are part of the advance care planning process. Advance directives are documents that you complete while you have decision-making ability that state your healthcare wishes in case you lose the ability to communicate them yourself. They provide a way to have your health care wishes known and respected if you lose the ability to communicate. With the right kind of advance directive, your wishes will be known and the chances of their being followed will be greatly increased. There are several different types of advance directives, and we have included descriptions of the most common directives.  

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