The advanced healthcare directive: help your family make the decisions you would want

If you become incapacitated, your loved ones may have to decide what medical treatment you should get and whether to turn off life-support. You can make these decisions easier for them by leaving an advanced healthcare directive, also known as a living will.

Who will decide for you if you become incapacitated owing to illness or injury? You can sign a document before a notary or witnesses that designates who will make decisions on your behalf and talk with the healthcare professionals who carry out these decisions. You can also state the personal criteria that should be taken into account for making these decisions, when, owing to your physical or mental state, you cannot directly express you will.

These personal criteria can refer to, for instance, your wishes regarding life quality in terms of your level of pain tolerance or functional independence. You can also specify where you want to spend your last days and in what health situations the personal criteria apply (dementia, irreversible illness, etc.).

Once you’ve specified who decides for you, the decision-making criteria, and when and why decisions should be made, you can give instructions on the health procedures you want carried out. For instance, you can request that your life not be uselessly prolonged by artificial means. In your living will, you can also state if you want spiritual care in your last moments and if you want to donate your organs.

In Catalonia, to facilitate the access of doctors to this personal information, the advanced healthcare directive can be registered in the Department of Health’s Register for Advanced Healthcare Directives. By registering the document, it is included in medical history shared with patients. This information can also be accessed by authorised professionals elsewhere in Spain.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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