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Do You Need a Health Care Directive for End-of-Life Decisions?

There seems to be controversy over somebody's end-of-life issues once every few years. The most famous of these was the Terry Schiavo case, which pit the brain-damaged woman's parents against her husband in a fight over whether to keep her on life support. Similar cases have occurred across the globe in places like Italy and the UK.

The reason the Schiavo battle occurred was because she had been young and did not have a health care power of attorney or a health care directive in place. If she'd had one of these documents in place, it would have clearly outlined the process to determine whether and when to end life-sustaining procedures.

So which is the right option for you?

The two main options that you have for making decisions when you are incapacitated are either a health care directive, also known as a living will, or a power of attorney for health care.

A health care directive is a document that explains exactly what health care you would like. This way all decisions are made before you become incapacitated, relieving relatives and loved ones from the stress of making them.

A power of attorney for health care transfers the decision-making power to another person. This means that the named person will then make decisions about your health care while you are unable to do so yourself. This power is generally given to your spouse or someone else whom you trust.

Your decision in the end is really whether you trust others to make the decisions for you, or whether you want to put those decisions in writing right now with a directive or power of attorney. While no one wants to think about their own demise, it is important to think about whether you want your family to go through a Terry Schiavo-type situation.

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