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Re-Evaluate Health Care Decisions Now

By Jamie Vickers

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Changes in Mississippi's law place more responsibility for health care decisions on the individuals, but make it easier to express future health care wishes when the person cannot.

Jan Lukens, consumer management specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said people create advance health-care directives while they are in sound mental condition to provide directions for their health care should they become unable to communicate in the future. They have a right to give instructions about these decisions and also appoint another person to carry out the decisions. A new directive was established to accomplish both tasks in one document.

"With so many medical options available, the need can arise to make difficult decisions about a family member's medical care," Lukens said. "An advance health-care directive allows people to make decisions in line with their own value systems about how a person will be cared for."

Health care directives, called living wills, that were filed with the Mississippi State Department of Health between 1984 and 1998 are being returned, but due to changes in address, not all living wills may be returned properly. To have a living will returned, call the State Department of Health in Jackson and ask for the Vital Records section.

The Uniform Health-Care Decisions Act introduced a new health care directive form into Mississippi law effective July, 1998. Although the living will written under the 1984 Living Will Law is still valid, the new law initiates a new form to use, called an advanced health-care directive.

"Mississippi's new advanced health-care directive offers an opportunity for decisions to be made more easily about health-care than with the outdated living will," Lukens said. "Both durable power of attorney and and other specific health-care decisions are addressed by the new law."

The new health care directive combines in one document the living will and the ability to name an agent to make health care decisions for someone else.

Both general and specific instructions may be provided in the advance health-care directive. Some items in the directive may include, the patient's desire for cardiopulmonary resuscitation or restarting the heart when it stops, artificial feeding, artificial breathing apparatuses, blood transfusions, medication to raise blood pressure and intravenous fluids.

Lukens said health care provisions should be shared with family, close friends and doctors. It is a relief for family members when decisions must be made to know that the wishes of their loved one are carried out.

"Discuss personal wishes for health care with the person you've given power of attorney so they will be able to act upon those wishes," Lukens said.

The agent has the right to consent or refuse any care, treatment, service or procedure to maintain, diagnose, or affect a physical or mental condition. The agent will also have the right to direct the providing, withholding or withdrawal of artificial food, fluids and all other forms of health care.

"An attorney can prepare an advance health-care directive or, or you may prepare it yourself, if done before two witnesses or a notary public, " Lukens said.


Released: Feb. 22, 1999
Contact: Jan Lukens, (228) 388-4710

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