Advanced Healthcare Directive
Such a document is important because, given a medical situation in which someone can't speak for himself -- anything incapacitating, from a short, temporary condition to a long terminal illness -- it lets medical providers and other decision makers know his preferences, and it can authorize someone to speak on the person's behalf. Without an advance health care directive or living will, patients who can't communicate may be left to the confused decisions of squabbling family members or the mercy of doctors who might use artificial means to prolong life, or refuse to do so, regardless of what the patient would want.
An advance health care directive is the primary legal tool for protecting a person's healthcare wishes if and when he can't speak for himself. The health care directive applies any time the person is unable to communicate, whether or not the situation is life threatening, and for however long is necessary. Examples are a patient's temporary condition after an incapacitating stroke or his chronic state during the long-term, late stages of Alzheimer's disease.
An advance health care directive can set out the person's wishes regarding the specific care he does and doesn't want, and it can appoint someone -- usually a close family member -- to supervise that care or to make decisions for him when he's unable to do so. An advance health care directive would not override the person's direct control over his care as long as he can still speak for himself.