A coherent patient basically has the right to make an autonomous decision regarding health care. He or she may decide to refuse or accept any form of medical treatment in the event of an illness or trauma. However, when coherence is absent, the duty is typically passed on to the patient's immediate family or the health care provider. This is when the concepts of living wills and power of attorney become significant.
For as long as you're competent and rational, only you can decide what medical intervention to accept. Needless to say, you also have the right to decline treatment based on your personal beliefs and preferences. The usual scenario would include a thorough explanation from your attending physicians as regards to the advantages and disadvantages of a particular medication or procedure. Yet, regardless of your reasons, the health care provider is obligated to grant your refusal to receive medical care.
On the other hand, if you become incapacitated due to a permanent disability or a terminal illness, you may lose the right and ability to decide for your own medical treatment. In this case, the important determinations will have to be made on your behalf. And if you haven’t formulated any instructions, no one will truly know what you would have wanted to happen.
Consequently, the health care team and your immediate family will have to work with professional judgment and presumptions about your condition. So before it's too late, learn about living wills and power of attorney and how they can make the situation a lot easier for and your family.
A living will is a legally binding document that allows you to express your wishes in writing with regard to medical treatment. It normally contains instructions as to how you want to be taken care of in the event of a debilitating illness or a permanent vegetative condition.