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End-of-life Decisions

During a routine visit to the doctor or hospital, you will often hear, “Do you have an advanced directive or living will?” Making end-of-life decisions before they are needed is actually the best time. Taking the time now to have a conversation about your end-of-life wishes can be one of the most thoughtful things you can do for your family.

An advanced directive is a signed legal document that indicates your choices about medical treatment if you are unable to make decisions yourself. Completing the appropriate advanced directive can predetermine end-of-life decisions about your medical care in a legally sound way.

An advanced directive refers to a living will or durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions. A living will is a document that tells healthcare providers what type of life-prolonging treatments or procedures you want if you have a terminal condition or are in a persistent vegetative state. It only deals with issues regarding your medical care while you are still living.

A medical power of attorney or a healthcare surrogacy form is a document that shows you have selected a person to make medical decisions for you if you should become temporarily or permanently unable to make decisions for yourself.

“More important than a piece of paper, is the conversation you have with your family members,” says Sandra Earles, a registered nurse and palliative care case manager for UK HealthCare. “Some people think they want to be kept alive no matter what the circumstance, and some do not if there is little to no quality of life as they value it.”


• If your next-of-kin feels emotionally unable to carry out your last wishes, you have the option of choosing a healthcare surrogate. A surrogate is someone who is aware of your wishes and who you trust will be able to make the decisions, regardless how difficult, when they are needed. A surrogate can only make decisions for you when you are unable to make your own decisions.

• Living will forms can be obtained by downloading from the Office of the Kentucky Attorney General (, search “living will form” to locate) or by calling your local hospice office ( or hospital social work office.

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