When people create their estate plans, an advance medical directive is potentially one of the most important inclusions they can take advantage of. This document describes what treatment someone wants to receive and may even discuss the care providers or facilities where they would prefer to undergo such treatment in the event that they are incapacitated – due to injury or illness – and are unable to advocate on behalf of their own preferences.
There are many reasons that someone would want to have direct control over the care that they receive, not the least of which is the possibility that they will have to live with the lasting consequences of medical care that they may not approve of. For example, many people have strong feelings about the following kinds of emergency medical interventions that may result in dire secondary consequences for patients.
1. Resuscitation often breaks bones
When people talk about not wanting resuscitation, especially if they are older adults, their loved ones often react with shock. Why would anyone deny potentially life-saving care?
What they fail to consider is what happens when someone receives that lifesaving care. Cardiovascular resuscitation often involves CPR, a process that could break someone’s ribs and lead to deep tissue damage. The after-effects of CPR can be lasting pain and permanent debilitation for older adults for whom full recovery from such injuries is unlikely.
2. Pain management can lead to addiction
Another choice that people often find confusing is the decision to decline intensive pain management. Some people will say they don’t want opioid pain relief at all, while others may limit its use to specific circumstances.
If someone receives compassionate pain management while incapacitated, they could develop a chemical dependence that persists even after they physically recover. They may experience intense addiction symptoms and withdrawal when they stop treatment. For some people, the risk of addiction is simply not worth the temporary comfort pain management provides.
3. Treatment may make someone a lifetime patient
Certain kinds of medical interventions, like transplants, have a cascade effect. They make someone forever dependent on medical care for the rest of their life. Individuals who do not want to become permanent medical patients may sometimes leave instructions declining specific forms of treatment, like transplants, that would make them lifetime patients.
Considering the secondary consequences of common medical procedures can help people to make better choices about their own care in their advance directives. Taking the time to identify and address estate planning issues with the assistance of an experienced attorney can benefit not only those who are worried about their future care but also their loved ones who may otherwise struggle to understand what to do in the event of an emergency.