Lawyers who help clients with estate planning are clear in their message about the importance of getting a health care directive in place. Sometimes called a living will, these documents help to guide care decisions when someone no longer has the capacity to do so for himself.

It isn’t only lawyers, however, who see the need for candid discussions about end-of-life care. Doctors see this as well. Having these conversations, and getting the results written into a legal document, is a part of the Massachusetts estate planning that both doctors and lawyers recognize as important.

For example, someone whose illness has become incurable might deliberately make the decision to enter hospice care. This choice means not subjecting the patient to medical interventions, even if distressing symptoms surface.

It isn’t only a matter, however, of writing down on a document that you don’t want intrusive measure to be taken. The process also involves the appointment of a healthcare proxy. This is someone to whom you have given official status to make healthcare decisions for you if you are no longer able to do so for yourself.

Primary care doctors greatly appreciate it when a patient has such an arrangement in place. The proxy could be a spouse or other family member. It could be a friend. Whoever it is, the person gives doctors a clear channel of communication when asking a patient directly about his or her wishes is no longer feasible.

The questions posed will vary from person to person. Does the patient want a ventilator to be used, for example, when breathing becomes difficult? This is precisely what the healthcare proxy is for, to provide a procedure for answering these questions.

Source: “Doctors have a duty to encourage patients to discuss end-of-life wishes,” Boston Globe, Dr. Kiran Gupta, 2-20-13