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What are personal/healthcare directives?

When people get older or they have health problems they often wonder what options are open to them in the event they are no longer capable of making decision about their healthcare.

Of course, they can appoint a power of attorney/personal directive as an agent for healthcare who can make health and other personal decisions for them but sometimes people want to have a say in what medical treatment they receive even after they become mentally incapacitated.

In that event, they usually also have the option of making a healthcare directive, also known as an advanced directive.

What is a personal directive?

A personal directive is the same as a power of attorney for personal care or healthcare. For example, a personal directive in Alberta is pretty much the same as what is known in Ontario as a power of attorney. People appointed in a personal directive will make healthcare decisions on your behalf should you lose capacity to make such decisions.

In general, a document which gives someone decision-making abilities over someone’s healthcare should they become mentally incapacitated is either called a power of attorney for healthcare or a personal directive in Canada. Usually, a power of attorney for property/finances has the same name in most provinces.

The personal directive in Alberta is made according to the Personal Directives Act.

Besides Alberta, Nova Scotia is another province that has a Personal Directives Act which allows them to appoint a substitute decision maker for healthcare decisions.

What is a healthcare directive?

A healthcare directive is also known as a living will, power of attorney for personal care or advance directive.

While in a personal directive/power of attorney for healthcare a person is appointed to be the substitute decision-maker that is not strictly necessary for the healthcare directive.

Usually a healthcare directive is a document in which a person specifies what healthcare treatments can and cannot be performed on them should they become unable to make medical decisions for themselves.

A healthcare directive may appoint someone called a proxy or an agent, to make healthcare decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. In that aspect, the healthcare directive is pretty much the same as a power of attorney or personal directive.

Healthcare directives can be both specific and general in their specifications for medical treatments.

Usually a healthcare directive will spell out what kind of treatment you would like to receive, or what kind of treatment you don’t want to receive in case you have a terminal disease, are in a coma or persistent vegetative state and whether you wish to receive artificial life support, artificially administered food and water, as well as care and comfort.

Be aware that, depending on the province or territory, some wishes in a healthcare or advanced directive may not be honoured, such as euthanasia.

If you make a healthcare directive it is important to let family members and physicians know that such a document exists otherwise they may not know and your wishes for medical treatment may not be heeded.

Sometimes the province in which you reside has a healthcare directive form that you can fill out.

Although it is not strictly necessary to have a lawyer draw up these documents in most provinces, it’s still a good idea to consult with one in regards to the power of attorney for healthcare/personal directive/healthcare directive to ensure it complies with legal standards, especially as the laws around directives vary from province to province.

You may also want to talk to your physician about the directive before completing it to ensure that the treatment options you want are set out in the directive.

Read more:

Health Care Directives

 Advance directives