Font size:

Health Care Decisions & Advance Directives: Overview of the Basics

Years ago, people young and old were more likely to die quickly of natural causes than they are today, when medical technology can extend the lives of seriously ill people for long periods of time.

Sometimes, modern technology offers us miraculous results; at other times, the latest therapies and procedures seem only to prolong suffering and the dying process. Thinking about and planning ahead for emergencies and end-of-life situations when you are in good health gives you and your loved ones the opportunity to prepare for a medical crisis that can happen to anyone at any time.

Getting Started

End-of-life conversations are not easy, but they are an essential piece of health care decision-making. It is impossible to predict the exact health situation you might be in and what treatments will be available to you at that time. Discussions with those closest to you about your goals and values can help to guide the "in the moment" decisions that may need to be made and will allow you to maintain as much control over your health care as possible.

If you become too sick to make your own health care decisions and have not planned ahead for your medical care, your doctor will need to consult with your family or close friends to learn more about what you would or would not want in certain situations. The best way to guarantee that your wishes are known and honored is to talk to members of your family, close friends and health care providers about your goals and preferences for care and treatment.

Having conversations early, when you are healthy, will relieve those closest to you of the burden of having to guess about what you would want in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself.

In Vermont it is not automatically your spouse or next of kin that will make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself. Therefore, selecting a health care agent is another important decision that you will need to make. Take the first step and start the conversation now. Then, document your decisions in an advance directive for health care.

Here are some helpful tools to get you started:

Advance Directive for Health Care

An advance directive is a legal document that allows you to give instructions for a broad range of health care decisions and appoint an agent to make those decisions for you if you become unable or unwilling to do so yourself. It is any written communication from you, properly signed and witnessed, that speaks about your future wishes and preferences for treatment.

Because advance directives express your values, they provide the best possible guidance to those who will make decisions about your care when needed. Completing an advance directive also allows you to designate a health care agent, a person of your choosing who can make decisions for you in the event that you are no longer able to speak for yourself.

For more information about advance directives and other helpful tools see:

Vermont Advance Directive Registry

Vermont Advance Directive Registry (VADR) is a secure database service that stores a scanned copy of your advance directive electronically so that it can be found immediately by any hospital or doctor who is treating you in an emergency. For more information and instructions on registering your advance directive, see: Registering Your Advance Directive.

If you have already registered your advance directive but are looking to make changes or update your document, you will need to complete a new Advance Directive, attach it to the Authorization to Change form and send your new document back to the VADR.