Advance Directive Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Advance Directive, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Advance Directive?

A written expression of a person’s desire for medical treatment used in cases where the person becomes incapacitated and is no longer capable of making his or her own decisions. Examples include Living Wills and Durable Power of Attorney.

History and Meaning of Advance Directive

An advance directive is a legal document that outlines an individual's medical treatment preferences in case they become unable to make decisions for themselves. This form of medical directive first became available in the United States in the 1960s, following a series of high-profile court cases involving life-sustaining treatment for patients who could no longer communicate their wishes.

There are two primary types of advance directives: 1) Living Wills, which outline an individual's preferences for end-of-life care, and 2) Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, which designates an individual to make medical decisions on the patient's behalf should they be incapacitated.

Advance directives provide a means for individuals to retain control over their medical treatment and ensure that their wishes are respected, even if they are unable to voice them themselves.

Examples of Advance Directive

  1. A patient with terminal cancer creates a Living Will that stipulates that they do not wish to receive life-sustaining treatment such as artificial ventilation or hydration if they become unable to communicate.
  2. An elderly individual designates their adult child as their Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, giving them the authority to make medical decisions if they are unable to do so themselves due to advanced dementia.
  3. A young adult creates an advance directive stipulating that they wish to donate their organs in the event of their death.

Legal Terms Similar to Advance Directive

  1. Health Care Proxy: Similar to Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care in that it designates an individual to make medical decisions on another's behalf if they are unable to do so themselves.
  2. Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order: A medical order that indicates that a patient does not wish to receive CPR or other life-saving measures if their heart stops or they stop breathing.
  3. Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST): A medical order that outlines a patient's medical treatment preferences, including resuscitation, intubation, and hospitalization.