How to Plan End-of-Life Care

If you have stage IV colon cancer, make your wishes known for end-of-life care

Home For The Aged. Credit: BSIP / Contributor / Getty Images

Planning end-of-life care can make it easier to cope with a stage IV colon cancer diagnosis. Though stage IV cancer is often not curable, people can live months and even years after a diagnosis. Knowing this, it is important to make sure your wishes for end of life care are known. The following options will help you get the care you want and need.

Advance Directives

An advance directive is a document that describes what type of medical care you want if you become unable to make decisions for yourself.

The best advance directives are detailed. They describe the kind of treatment you want depending on how sick you are. For example, the document would describe what kind of care you want if you have an illness from which you are unlikely to recover.

An advance directive also lets you specify the care you want if you are in a coma or permanently unconscious. Advance directives let you tell your doctor which treatments you do or don't want in various circumstances. An advance directive also lets you indicate that you do want a certain treatment, no matter how sick you are.

The laws about how to draw up an advance directive vary by state. Be sure to find out what laws apply to advance directives in your state. You can download forms by state to see which type of advance directive is right for you. You can also ask your doctor or nurse for information about advance directives.

Living Will

A living will is a type of advance directive.

Some types of advance directives allow you to select a person who can make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself; however, a living will does not allow you to select a person to make decisions for you.

Health Care Proxy

A health care proxy is a person you designate to make medical decisions for you in the event that you can't do so yourself.

You can fill out a document that provides information to your health care team regarding who you have appointed as your health care proxy.

Designating a health care proxy is another type of advance directive. It's important to remember that this person can only make decisions about your health care if you can't do this yourself. If you are able to make decisions, a health care proxy cannot overrule your decisions about what care is best for you.

Medical Power of Attorney

Medical power of attorney is one more form of advance directive. This is different from a health care proxy. When you designate someone to have medical power of attorney for you, you give that person the ability to perform legal transactions on your behalf if you are medically incapacitated.

For example, if you are in a coma or unconscious, the person you've designated to have medical power of attorney for you can complete bank transactions, sign social security checks, apply for disability, write checks to pay your rent or utilities, and perform other financial transactions for you.

If you become able to complete these activities yourself again in the future, the person who is your medical power of attorney cannot overrule your decisions.

You always have the final say on your health care and your legal transactions if you are able to make these decisions for yourself.

Sources: Advance Directives and Do Not Resuscitate Orders. Accessed: July 12, 2010.

National Institute on Aging. "What is the difference between an advance directive and a living will?" Accessed: July 10, 2010.

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