Advance Directives are Empowerment Tools

Advance directives, legal documents that spell out how you want to be cared for if you are dying or are permanently unconscious, are voluntary tools you can use to take control of your life and its care even when you’re no longer able to speak for yourself.

For many years now, some people have voluntarily chosen to be organ donors. Society as a whole has accepted this right to make a choice about something so personal – as personal as choosing whether you’d want breathing machines used to keep you breathing or resuscitation efforts if your heart stopped or you weren’t breathing. Organ donation is an advance directive, although it’s not often referred to as such. Organ donation is a voluntary and individual choice a person is able to make about the use of their organs for others upon death – a legally-binding document.

Perhaps because the question of organ donation has been going on for decades, or because it’s asked in places such as the bureau of motor vehicles when a driver’s license is renewed – a setting far-removed from a hospital or doctor’s office – it has been readily accepted without being referred to as something from the minds of a “death squad” – as the discussion of other advance directives with your primary care physician was by some who opposed the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Advance directives

Advance directives are empowerment tools

Beginning in January 2016, Medicare began making payments once a year to primary care physicians who took the time to explain advance directives to their patients, something the health care providers argued they couldn’t do adequately along with a regular patient visit. This is the portion of the Affordable Care Act that its opponents referred to as “death squads” and so was written out of the bill.

Advance directives are anything but decisions made by anonymous others or even a room full of health insurers or physicians. Advance directives place the power of decision-making about end-of-life care – whether that occurs at age 30 due to a catastrophic illness or accident, or at age 85 – in the hands of the person who needs to make it – you.

Although not something many of us are uncomfortable thinking about and planning for our own deaths, advance directives are empowerment tools. Not everyone is comfortable thinking about a living will or naming a power of attorney for health care. Choosing not to do so is as much of a choice as is learning about the options and making plans for the future, should they be needed.


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