Many people are concerned about the medical care they will
receive if they become terminally ill and unable to communicate.
Medical care today has the ability to provide treatments and
procedures that are capable of prolonging life and postponing the
death of someone who is terminally ill. Some people do not want
to spend months or years dependent on life-support machines, and
they do not want to cause unnecessary emotional or financial
distress for their loved ones. This is why a growing number of
people are taking action before they become seriously ill. They
are stating their healthcare wishes in writing, while they are
still healthy and able to make these decisions, through legal
documents called Advance Directives.
Commonly asked questions about Advance
What are Advance Directives?
Advance Directives are documents written in advance of a serious
illness that state your choices for healthcare and/or to name
someone to make decisions for you if you become unable to make
them. There are two types of Advance Directives: a Declaration
Concerning Life-Sustaining Procedures (also known as a Living
Will) and Power Of Attorney for Healthcare.
What is a Declaration Concerning Life-Sustaining
A Declaration Concerning Life-Sustaining Procedures (Declaration)
is a written document indicating the care you want including
withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining procedures in the
event you should have a terminal and irreversible condition. This
document must be signed and dated in front of two witnesses.
Your Declaration should be discussed with your family and your
doctor and be made a part of your medical record. Be sure to
bring a copy of it with you every time you come to the hospital.
Although you do not need a lawyer to prepare a Declaration, you
may wish to discuss this with your lawyer.
What is a Power of Attorney for Healthcare?
A Power of Attorney for Healthcare allows you to name another
person to make medical decisions for you if you are unable or no
longer wish to make them for yourself. Again, this document needs
to be dated and signed in front of two witnesses. You can
identify your Power of Attorney for Healthcare in the same
document as your Declaration.
Your Declaration and Power of Attorney for Healthcare forms must
be dated and signed in the front of two witnesses so the
witnesses can confirm that:
- you are the person who signed the document
- you were not forced to sign it
- you appeared to understand what you were doing.
Witnesses must be adults who are not related to the person making
the declaration by blood or marriage and cannot receive any
portion of the person's estate upon their death. The person you
identify as your Power of Attorney for Healthcare cannot be a
witness. At Our Lady of the Lake, hospital employees, your doctor
and his/her employees cannot be witnesses.
What does the law say about this issue?
Since 1991, federal law requires that hospitals ask all patients
18 years and older, who are admitted to the hospital if they have
a written Declaration or a Power of Attorney for Healthcare. In
addition, federal law requires that hospitals, upon request, give
patients information about their right to make decisions
concerning medical care, the right to accept or refuse medical or
surgical treatment, and the right to make Advance Directives.
Laws differ somewhat from state to state, but in most cases a
patient's expressed wishes will be honored. The laws of Louisiana
have long recognized that all persons have the right to make
decisions about their medical care. This includes the right to
either consent to or refuse treatment and/or surgery. Informed
consent means that you are fully informed of the reason and
benefits of a treatment, any risks involved, and any options.
Louisiana law provides guidelines naming who can make decisions
for you if you have not made your wishes known and have not
authorized in writing someone to do so. The people in the
following order have the right to make these decisions:
- Any person or persons previously designated by the patient,
while an adult, in writing (Power of Attorney for Health Care).
- The court-appointed tutor or curator of the patient
- The patient's spouse not judicially separated*
- The patient's adult children
- The patient's parents
- The patient's brothers and sisters
- The patient's other relatives
If there is more than one person from number 4-7, then the
Declaration shall be made by all persons of that group who are
available for discussion upon good faith efforts.
Louisiana law defines "spouse" as a person who is legally married
to the patient but does not include a spouse who:
- Is judicially separated from the patient
- Is living with another person in the manner of married
- Has been convicted of any crime of violence against the other
spouse that has resulted in the terminal and irreversible
- Has violated any domestic abuse protective order affecting
the other spouse
What will the hospital do to help if my family member or
I should be in this situation?
Doctors, nurses, social workers, lawyers, and clergy are
available to discuss issues, offer advice on hospital policy, and
review cases. Often, they will provide options, however the final
decision is up to you, your family, and the doctor.
How can I know in advance which procedures I would want
or not want to prolong my life?
Although it is not possible to list every possible treatment, it
is possible to decide what kind of treatment you would want in
most cases. Your decisions can be made by thinking about and
discussing with your family and others your views about dying.
Think about how you feel about being totally dependent on others,
the role of family finances, the conditions that would make life
painful to you and how artificial life-support would affect the
dying process. If you have questions about the kinds of
treatments that are often used when illness is severe and
recovery unlikely, ask your doctor. Regardless of your age, it is
never too early to start this decision-making process, so do not
What if I make a Declaration or Power of Attorney for
Healthcare and then change my mind?
Any Advance Directive, including a Declaration or a Power of
Attorney for Healthcare, may be canceled at any time by
destroying it, by a written note, or even verbally.
What if I make an Advance Directive in one state and am
hospitalized in Louisiana?
If you currently have a Declaration from another state, it
probably will be legal in Louisiana. The forms provided by
Louisiana law are samples of how to state your wishes. There are
many other forms available. If you have any questions about a
Declaration prepared in another state, you should contact your
attorney and/or discuss it with your doctor.
Where should I keep my Advance Directive
These documents should be kept in a safe yet accessible place. It
is important that someone close to you knows where these
documents are kept in case of an emergency. Your doctor and your
family should have copies.
Will my healthcare providers honor my preferences as
stated in my Declaration?
In most circumstances, healthcare providers will honor your
preferences. Sometimes a healthcare provider may be hesitant to
follow your wishes on moral or ethical grounds. If this happens,
the provider will try to arrange for another provider who is
comfortable with your wishes to care for you.
Does my religious tradition have anything to say about
the Declaration or the kinds of medical treatment I should
Most religious faiths allow individuals to make their own
choices. If you have a question about Advance Directives from a
religious perspective talk with your priest, minister, rabbi,
imam or other representative of your religious group.
Where can I get Advance Directive forms?
Forms and information may also be obtained from the Our Lady of
the Lake Pastoral Care Department by calling (225) 765-8896. If
you have additional questions on Advance Directives or on
completing the documents you may contact Pastoral Care, Social
Services and/or Patient Care Services at Our Lady of the Lake, as
well as with your doctor and/or your lawyer.
Policy of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical
Our Lady of the Lake is dedicated to supporting the physical,
emotional, and spiritual needs of our patients and their
families. Our commitment is to the dignity of each person. Our
Lady of the Lake recognizes the moral and legal rights of its
patients to make their own healthcare decisions.
Our hope is that this information will guide you in identifying
and communicating your end-of-life healthcare wishes to your
loved ones and doctor.