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Information on Advance Directives

Why are they important?

People have the right to make their own healthcare decisions. Advance Directives can help people communicate their treatment choices, when they would otherwise be unable to make such decisions.

But, what if you become incapable of making healthcare decisions for yourself because of injury or illness? Imagine that you are in a hospital, terminally ill with cancer and are confused.

Who will decide whether you should have CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), if your heart should stop suddenly? Or, what if you are 40 years old and are involved in a motor vehicle accident which leaves you permanently unconscious. Who will decide whether you are to be kept alive with tube feedings? Or, what if you have Alzheimer’s Disease and you develop a serous infection in a nursing home. Who will decide whether or not you will be hospitalized and treated with antibiotics?

You can remain in charge of your healthcare, even after you can no longer make decisions for yourself by creating a document called an “Advance Care Plan.”

What is a Living Will/Advance Care Plan?

A “Living Will” is the term used in Tennessee’s prior law. In 2004 Tennessee law changed the name of the form “Living Will” to “Advance Care Plan.”

An Advance Care Plan is a document that tells your doctor how you want to be treated if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious. You can use a Living Will/Advance Care Plan to tell you doctor you want to avoid life-prolonging interventions such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), kidney dialysis or breathing machines. You can use this form to tell your doctor you just want to be pain free and comfortable at the end of life. You may also add other special instructions or limitations in your form.

What is a Medical Power of Attorney?

A Medical Power of Attorney is a term used in the State’s law prior to 2004. In the new law this is referred to as an Appointment of Health Care Agent. An Appointment of Health Care Agent is another type of advance directive that allows you to name a person to make healthcare decisions for you, if you are unable to make them for yourself.

How is the Appointment of Health Care Agent different from the Advance Care Plan?

An Advance Care Plan only applies if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious AND too sick to make decisions for yourself. An Advance Care Plan only tells your doctor what you do not want unless you write in other specific instructions. It is a written record of decisions that you have made yourself.

On the other hand, the Appointment of Health Care Agent allows you to choose someone else to make healthcare decisions for you, if you are too sick to make them for yourself. This person is called your Health Care Agent. Your Agent can make any healthcare decision that you could make if you were able. A Health Care Agent allows you to give specific instructions to your representative about the type of care you would want to receive.

The Appointment of Health Care Agent allows your decision maker to respond to medical situations that you might not have anticipated and to make decisions for you with knowledge of your values and wishes.

How can I get a copy of the Advance Directive Forms?

You may get copies from MHHS or you can download the form at and click on “Advance Directive Forms and Information.” MHHS Case Management Department can assist you with completing these documents upon your request. Notify your nurse of this request or call 423-492-5300.