If you’ve had any medical procedure done lately or if you’ve been admitted to the hospital, you’ve likely been asked if you have a Living Will or an Advance Directive that you want to be placed on file.
While these documents vary from state-to-state, in Alabama, an Advance Directive is a set of written instructions that allows you, while you are mentally competent, to state how you want certain end-of-life health care decisions to be made, should you become so incapacitated that you cannot speak or express your wishes on your own.
The Alabama specific form covers two sections: one for the Living Will and one for the appointment of your health care proxies. In the Living Will section, you are allowed to answer certain “Yes” or “No” statements, as it pertains to the kind of life-sustaining treatment you would want (or not want) to receive, if you had a terminal illness or injury or if you were in a state of permanent unconsciousness.
The section outlining the proxy appointment is exactly what it sounds like. It allows you to name someone (and ideally a backup or two) to enforce your decisions regarding life sustaining treatment and artificially provided food and hydration.
Why is it so important to have this particular document in place? A clear and sound advanced directive makes your wishes known to your family, friends and health care providers while you are unable to do so. It can help eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) the stress that comes with placing that responsibility on your loved ones and disagreements about what treatment you would want to receive.
What happens if you don’t have an Advance Directive in Alabama and you are unable to speak for yourself? Per Ala Code §22-8A-11, the person who will be appointed as the decision maker for you is decided by order of priority as follows:
- A spouse (unless legally separated or if divorce proceedings are pending)
- An adult child
- A parent
- An adult sibling
- If there are no known relatives, and none can be found after reasonable inquiry, a committee of the attending physician and the ethics committee of the treating facility or, if none, of the attending physician, the chief of medical staff or his designee, the patient’s clergyman or a member of the clergy or an independent social worker.