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Advance Directives Q & A

Questions about medical care at the end of life are important to deal with head on. Medical technology has advanced to the point that life can sometimes be prolonged for an indefinite period of time. Studies funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality indicate most patients haven't participated in this advance care planning with their families and physician. The best way for you to be in control of medical treatment is to record and discuss end-of-life preferences in advance. Following are some frequently asked questions about advance directives.

Question: What are advance directives? 
Answer: These are documents written in advance of serious illness that state your choices about medical treatment or allow you to name someone who can make these choices for you, should you become unable to do so. Through advance directives such as a living will or healthcare power of attorney, you can make legally-binding decisions about your future medical treatment.  

Question: What does South Carolina law say about advance directives? 
Answer: Under most circumstances you have the right to refuse any medical treatment you do not wish to receive. South Carolina law allows you to sign advance directives so your desires will be followed, even if you are unable to communicate them to your healthcare provider.  

Question:  What is a living will?
Answer: This is a document whereby you can direct your physician to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining procedures and treatment if you should become terminally ill. The living will must be signed, dated, and witnessed. A lawyer is not needed to draw up a living will, but state law describes the kind of form that must be used in order for the living will to be valid. Click here to see Living Will information. Palmetto Health hospitals have mechanisms in place to assist patients with living wills, if requested. 

Question:  What is a healthcare power of attorney? 
Answer: This is a signed, dated, and witnessed legal document in which you can name another person to make medical decisions for you if you become unable to make them. In this document you can describe treatment you want and do not want.  Click here for a healthcare power of attorney form. This form of advance directive can apply to any medical condition-not just terminal illness.  Palmetto Health hospitals have mechanisms in place to assist patients with execution of a healthcare power of attorney, if requested.

Question: What happens if I don't have a formal advance directive such as a living will or healthcare power of attorney?
Answer: If you are incapacitated and unable to express your health care wishes to your physician directly, South Carolina has a law that defines how those decisions can be made and who can make them on your behalf.  To learn more about South Carolina's Adult Health Care Consent Act go to the South Carolina Legislature's website.

Question: Are advance directives mainly for the elderly? 
Answer: No!  Serious illness or accident can happen to people of all ages. If you have strong feelings about the healthcare choices you would want made in such a situation, you are encouraged to consider signing an advance directive.   

Question: What happens if I change my mind? 
Answer: This is not a problem. These documents can be changed or revoked at any time simply by notifying your physician, revising the document, or by destroying the document. 

Question:  What should I do with my advance directive after I have completed it?
Answer: You should give copies to one or more people who would know if you became seriously ill. If you have appointed someone as your agent, to make decisions for you, make sure you give him or her a copy. Give a copy to your physician. You may even want to consider giving a copy to your minister or close friends. Think about carrying a card in your wallet that says you have signed an advanced directive and where it is. If you are in the hospital, you must provide a copy of your advance directive to someone at the hospital so it can be included in your chart.