Advance Directives

The Colorado legislature recognized in the "Colorado Medical Decisions Treatment Act" that a competent patient has a right to accept or refuse medical or surgical treatment. What is technically referred to as an "Advanced Directive for Medical/Surgical Treatment" is more commonly known nowadays as a "living will," which is the term I will use.

In order to place a living will into effect in an end-of-life situation, two factors must be present. One, the patient must be incapacitated. Two, the patient must be determined by two qualified medical professionals (the attending physician and one other physician qualified to make such a determination, each of whom has examined the patient, to be in either a terminal condition or a persistent vegetative state. A termination condition is defined under Colorado law as "an incurable or irreversible condition for which the administration of life-sustaining procedures will serve only to prolong the dying process."

In both the case of a termination condition and a persistent vegetative state, the client/patient has three options from which to choose. One, withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment. Two, provide life-sustaining treatment for a period of time specified by the client/patient, after which such treatment would be withdrawn. Or three, the client/patient may choose to continue life-sustaining treatment so long as medically feasible.

If you have a living will, you also should have a medical power of attorney, since the two documents cover different situations. The living will covers only an incapacitated person who is in a terminal condition or is in a persistent vegetative state. The medical power of attorney, on the other hand, is intended to provide a designated agent to make decisions on behalf of a person who is unable to make decisions for himself or herself, regardless of whether such decisions involve a termination condition or a persistent vegetative state.

As with any other estate planning document, the living will can be revoked at any time by a competent person.