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Can Advance Directives be Used in Emergencies?

by Viki Kind, End-of-Life Expert
May 20, 2016

Question: Do advance directives take effect during emergencies?

Answer: Advance directives take effect in emergencies when you are too sick to speak for yourself. This might mean that you are sedated because you are in pain so someone else will have to speak for you. Or you may have had some type of brain injury or illness that makes you unable to think clearly enough to make your own decisions. It isn’t the emergency itself that makes your document go into effect; it is because you are unable to advocate for yourself. Advance directives go into effect in any situations where you are too cognitively impaired to think clearly and make your own decisions. If you can still think clearly, (have decisional capacity or are competent), then you will be speaking for yourself during the emergency.

Viki Kind is a clinical bioethicist, professional speaker, and hospice volunteer. Her book, The Caregiver’s Path to Compassionate Decision Making: Making Choices For Those Who Can't,” guides families and professionals through the difficult process of advocating for those who can no longer speak for themselves. She has recently launched a DVD that includes a template to create a quality-of-life statement.

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