Ohio and Michigan residents can direct, in advance, what type of care they would like to receive - or not receive - in the event they become incapacitated. These instructions are often referred to as "advance directives."
The laws governing advance directives vary from state to state, but in general, state laws lay out what sort of forms and other material people have to fill out to make their wishes clear. In Michigan, for example, a 1990 law gives adults the ability to designate a family member or trusted friend to make health-care decisions for them through an advance directive or durable power of attorney.
End-of-life experts stress that regardless of what state you live in, everyone should have discussions about their wishes in the event they would ever become incapacitated.
Here are some questions and answers based on sections of Ohio and Michigan law and advice from local and state end-of-life experts:
Question: What is a living will?
Answer: A living will allows adults to decide in a formal written document the type of care you'd like to receive in case you were to become permanently unconscious or terminally ill and unable to communicate. Living wills in Ohio deal with some specific scenarios. Experts urge residents of both Ohio and Michigan who fill out a living will to also fill out an advance directive that gives a family member or trusted friend "health care" or "durable" power of attorney to act on your behalf.
Q: What's a health care/durable power of attorney?
A: This document allows you to give broader instructions than a living will and to select someone to make decisions for you in the event you are unable. These instructions should be as specific as possible and address various scenarios, such as whether you should be placed on a ventilator, receive drugs or tube feeding, undergo surgery, and whether or not you want resuscitation like CPR. In Michigan, you can simply name your patient advocate who has your power of attorney, but without written instructions on resuscitation, the advocate cannot stop efforts to sustain your life.
Q: Do you need an attorney to fill these forms out?
A: No. A notary or two unrelated adults can witness you signing the form. However, these are legal documents so it doesn't hurt to have an attorney review them for you.
Q: How do I get copies of these forms?
A: Copies of these forms can be obtained for free from a variety of sources. One option in Ohio is go online at the Ohio Hospice and Palliative Care Web site, www.ohpco.org or call the organization at 800 776-9513. In Michigan, advance directive forms are available from hospitals, the Michigan State Medical Society and the Michigan State Bar Association. You can also download forms for free from the University of Michigan Health Systems at www.med.umich.edu/1libr/aha/umadvdir.htm.
Q: Who could I speak with in northwest Ohio about end-of-life issues, including advance care directives?
A: The Advanced Care Planning Coalition of Greater Toledo, formed in December, 2002, provides forms and free information to educate the public and medical community about advance care directives and end-of-life issues. The hot line is 419 725-0523.