One of the basic human rights of residents in Maryland is the right to make decisions on their own behalf regarding medical treatment. The ability to either accept or deny a proposed medical treatment extends even to treatments that are meant to prolong a person's life, such as the use of feeding tubes or breathing machines. Unfortunately, many people in such situations are physically or mentally unable to make such decisions. However, these decisions still must be made, hopefully by one that understands what the person would have wanted.
Maryland law addresses this situation through the Health Care Decisions Act. This act allows residents of Maryland to create an advance directive as part of their estate plan. An advance directive lists someone as the person's agent for health care, who will make health care decisions for the person if that person is unable to do so themselves. The advance directive can lay out what a person's wishes are regarding life sustaining treatments.
There is a certain form the state offers to accomplish this goal. There are three components to the form. The first part reflects who the person has chosen as their health care agent. The second part describes the person's preferences with regards to treatment. The third part contains the person's signature and two witnesses. However, a person is not required to use these forms when creating an advanced directive. If there is an alternative form with different wording the person would prefer to use, they may do so.
Once a person completes a valid advance directive, it will not expire and it will continue to be effective unless the person chooses to amend or revoke it. Only the person who created the advance directive can alter it. It may be wise to review it from time to time, in case one's wishes or life situation changes. One has the right to change or revoke it whenever they want, as long as they have the mental capacity to do so.
This is only a general overview of advanced directives in Maryland. Future posts will delve into the specifics regarding who can be listed as an agent and a person's treatment preferences. Advanced directives are an important tool in one's end-of-life plan that should be considered by all residents.