Alabama state law allows you, as an adult, (at least 19 years of age), to put in writing instructions to your doctor about how much and what type of medical care you want if you become terminally ill. When you are admitted to the hospital and even before, you should discuss this issue and make your decisions known to your doctor and your family.
While state law provides ways for you to make your wishes known, it does not require your physician or hospital to follow these wishes. Therefore, it is essential that you discuss your desires with your physician.
Whatever decisions you make about intensity of care or termination of life-sustaining procedures, we will continue to provide medical and nursing care to prevent pain and suffering and to provide comfort.
Life-sustaining procedures are machines and treatments that help the body to function properly if the body’s systems fail because of illness or injury. These basic body functions include the ability to breathe, to take in food, to eliminate waste and to provide an adequate heart beat.
Decisions about whether or not life-sustaining therapies should be used must be made voluntarily by competent and informed patients. These decisions can be stated by executing advanced directives (living wills, durable powers of attorney).
A living will is a legal document that lets you specify the kinds of medical treatment you wish to receive if you become chronically or terminally ill.
There is a copy of a living will in the Patient Information booklet that was provided for you on admission. You may also get copies from the offices of Admitting, Community Relations, the Patient Representative and the Risk Manager.
If you are unable to make such a decision, then the decision should be made by another informed person acting for you. This person could be a family member, a legal guardian or someone to whom you have given durable power of attorney for health care.
Durable power of attorney, sometimes called general power of attorney, is a document that authorizes another person to act as one’s agent in all matters. You may get a durable power of attorney for health care from your lawyer. If you do not have a lawyer and wish to make a durable power of attorney for health care, you may contact the Alabama State Bar Association at 1-800-392-5660.
In the event you do not have a living will or a durable power of attorney, and you are unable to voice your wishes regarding your treatment, your next of kin and/or physician will be allowed to make decisions on your behalf.
Additional Information About Living Wills
- Persons who desire to have a living will must be capable of understanding the function of a living will and be able to relay the meaning of the living will when questioned.
- A living will must be witnessed by two people, at least 19 years of age, who know the patient and are not related to the patient by blood or marriage. Hospital employees should not witness a living will.
- A living will does not have to be notarized.
- A copy of the signed living will should be brought to the hospital on each visit.
- You have the right to change your mind about any instructions you give your physician or this facility. You can revoke your instructions verbally or in writing. It is very important, however, that you give your written revocation to your physician or this facility so they will know you have changed your mind. A family member cannot revoke your instructions.
Definitions of Terms You May Hear in the Hospital
Life-Sustaining Procedure: Any medical procedure or mechanical intervention that will prolong life when the body functions are not able to perform normally. The life-sustaining measures include mechanical ventilators, kidney dialysis treatments, medications for blood pressure support, artificial nutrition and hydration.
Breathing Techniques: Machines that assist or control your breathing are called ventilators. In order for artificial breathing to take place a tube must be inserted into your windpipe.
Brain Death: The absence of brain activity as documented by a brain wave test (EEG - electroencephalogram). At this time, your family may be asked about organ donation for transplantation. If you would like information regarding organ donation, you may call 1-800-252-3677.
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): Generally consists of external heart massage, artificial breathing techniques, medication and electrical shocks to the heart.
Terminal Condition: A condition in which death will occur very soon or in which life is hopeless unless the patient is artificially supported through the use of the above-mentioned life-sustaining procedures, or when treatment has failed to cure or lessen the effects of a chronic clinical condition.