Two Legal Documents Caregivers Need to Make Decisions for a Sick Loved One


Two Legal Documents Caregivers Need to Make Decisions for a Sick Loved One


Being ill, while an inevitability in life, is rarely a pleasant experience. Neither is being unable to participate in making personal medical decisions. If you are unconscious or unable to articulate your consent for treatment, a medical provider or next of kin may have to make them for you. Preserving life is always the plan, but sometimes you may not want that to be the plan. 

For advice on asking someone what care they want to receive, read Questions to Ask Before a Loved One Gets Sick or Hurt

Here are a few scenarios where life-saving measures might not be the first choice: 

Scenario #1. A terminally ill patient with a disease like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s may not want to be fed through a tube or given antibiotics after a certain stage of their disease. 

Scenario #2. A brain-damaged individual who will have to live indefinitely outside of their home in a facility may not want to be on a breathing tube or dialysis or other artificial life-saving machines. 

Scenario #3. Someone with a pacemaker or other device may want it removed if their condition worsens to a certain point. 

Under certain circumstances, life-saving measures make perfect sense. When recovery is likely and quality of life is high, it is worth the effort and time it takes to recover or endure life-saving measures. However, there may be times or circumstances when you and the person you care for want to draw a line in the medical sand. 

There are two legal documents that will make it clear to providers and other family when your loved one does not want measures taken and, if they do, what they are and when they stop.

Advance Directives and Do Not Resuscitate Orders

Advance Directive: An advance directive is a tool used to make end-of-life decisions ahead of time, alleviating medical staff and family from having to make them. An advance directive is a legal document that can be added to a will or trust so it is easily accessible if it needs to be enforced.  

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR): A DNR is a document that denies life-saving measures if a person’s heart stops beating or they are unable to breathe on their own. 

These documents will help you prevent life-saving measures that might prolong suffering or low-quality living. Consult your loved one's primary care physician to learn more and support the decisions that are right for them. 

For more information on planning for future care needs, read our Advance Care Planning Guide

Adapted from Chapter 1 of Rosalind Jones' forthcoming book, "Lifted."

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