Advance directives are oral or written statements in which people declare their treatment preferences in the event that they lose decision-making capacity. Advance directives may allow patients to prevent unwanted and burdensome treatments when struck by terminal illness, permanent unconsciousness, or profound mental disability. Advance directives are only one part of a process known as advance care planning, in which patients, ideally in consultation with physicians and loved ones, plan in a thoughtful and reflective manner for medical care in the event of future incapacity.
This entry discusses the various types of advance directives along with the goals of and the ethical basis for advance care planning. It explores practical problems associated with advance care planning and concludes with discussions of how advance directives are used in clinical practice, and how decision makers ought to proceed in the absence of a clear advance directive.
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