Patient Advance Directives: End-of-Life Decision Making
When an unexpected accident or serious illness makes it impossible for you to make health care choices, others will make those decisions for you. Developing an advanced directive is the only way to be certain that your loved ones and caregivers understand your end-of-life wishes, and that they respect your intentions.
- Patient advance directives are documents that contain guidelines for end-of-life care and decision-making. An advance directive allows you to specify the conditions for a wide range of future health care decisions, and allows you to appoint a health care agent to act on your behalf.
A health care agent can be your spouse, an adult child, other family member or a friend. The only exception is that a health care agent may not be your treatment facility’s employee, owner or operator.
You can also choose when your agent can decide for you. For example, your agent may be given authority to make medical decisions only after two doctors agree that you are not able to do so yourself. You can also give your agent very broad or very specific powers in deciding about life-sustaining treatment.
If you don’t select a health care agent, Maryland law allows a surrogate to make medical decisions for you. The state would ask your closest relative, or if a relative is not available, the state can appoint a close friend as surrogate. But a surrogate might have less authority to decide against life-sustaining procedures than a health care agent. If there is no one to be a surrogate, a court might have to appoint a guardian to make your medical decisions. The guardian might be someone who does not know you personally.
- You can also make an oral Maryland advance directive to your doctor with a witness. You can use oral patient advance directives to name a health care agent, to make decisions about life-sustaining procedures, or both.
- A patient living will is one type of advance directive. When you make a living will it should include those life-sustaining procedures that you would want to be provided, withheld, or withdrawn if you become terminally ill, are in a persistent vegetative state, or have an end-stage condition. An end-stage condition is an advanced, progressive and incurable condition resulting in complete physical dependency.
Learn How to Make a Living Will and More about Advance Directives
We encourage you to make an advance directive, and we’ve provided the State of Maryland advanced directives form and the Holy Cross Hospital Living Will form to help you get started:
You may also want to consult health care legal services for assistance. Or, you can access one of Holy Cross Hospital’s information resources available to patients and the community:
- On Your Behalf: An in-house video that airs on Channel 6 at noon and 5:30 p.m. daily at the hospital
- Advance Directive Information Line: 301-754-7390
- Education Sessions: Holy Cross Hospital has staff available to speak with church and/or community groups regarding patient advance directives. If your organization is interested, please call 301-754-7390 to arrange for a group session.
Consulting the Ethical Advisory Committee
Occasionally, patients, families and other members of the community will wish to consult with the Ethical Advisory Committee about specific difficult issues that arise during the course of medical treatment or care received at Holy Cross Hospital. All Holy Cross Hospital patients have the right to seek counsel from the Ethical Advisory Committee about difficult ethical cases.
The Holy Cross Hospital Ethical Advisory Committee is comprised of an interdisciplinary team of health care professionals and specially trained individuals to assist patients, families and health care providers in clarifying ethically sensitive issues.
To consult the Ethical Advisory Committee, please call 301-754-7025.