Planning for the Future

Unexpected end-of-life situations can happen at any age, so it's important for all adults to have Advance Directives. No matter what your age, documenting your wishes in advance relieves your family from having to make heart-wrenching decisions about your care later. Advance directives describe what treatment you want or don't want if you are faced with a serious accident or illness. These legal documents speak for you when you're not able to speak for yourself. Having written instructions can help reduce confusion or disagreement. Any competent person age 18 or older may prepare advance directives. There are four basic types of advance directives in Texas.

In Texas, the Living Will or Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates is a legal document that helps you communicate your wishes about medical treatment when you are unable to make your wishes known because of illness or injury. A living will spells out the types of medical treatments and life-sustaining measures you do and don't want, such breathing on a machine, tube feeding or resuscitation.

The Medical Power of Attorney (MPA) is a legal document that designates an individual to make medical decisions for you in the event that you're unable to do so. A medical power of attorney is sometimes called a durable power of attorney for health care. However, it is different from a power of attorney authorizing someone to make financial decisions and transactions for you.

An Out-of-Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) Order is a request to not have electrical shocks, a tube in your throat, and/or chest compression if your heart stops beating, or if you stop breathing. This is separate from a living will or a medical power of attorney. It is the only legal document that will prevent paramedics from attempting to save your life should your heart and breathing stop outside the hospital. Because attempts at cardiopulmonary resuscitation usually do not work when a person has a terminal illness or very advanced age, this type of document can be very important in preventing suffering near life's end.

A Declaration for Mental Health Treatment allows you to make decisions in advance about mental health treatment. The instructions that you include in this declaration will be followed only if a court believes that you are incapacitated to make treatment decisions. Otherwise, you will be considered able to give or withhold consent for the treatments.

Organ Donation

You can also specify in your advance directives any wishes you have about donating your organs, eyes and tissues for transplantation or your body for scientific study. You can also register online to be an organ donor. If you wish to donate your body for scientific study, contact the medical school closest to your home for details.