Advance Directive Myths

Myths and brief facts about Health Care Advance Directives follow:

Myth #1. You must have a Living Will to stop treatment near the end of life. False. Treatment that is no longer helping can be stopped without a Living Will.

Myth #2. You have to use your state’s statutory form for your advance directive to be valid. False. Most states do not require a particular form, but they do have witnessing requirements or other special signing formalities that should be followed.

Myth #3. Advance directives are legally binding, so doctors have to follow them. False. Advanced directives are legally recognized documents and doctors must respect your known wishes, but doctors can always refuse to comply with your wishes if they have an objection of conscience or consider your wishes medically inappropriate.

Myth #4. An advance directive means “Do not treat.” False. No one should ever presume it simply means “Do not treat.” An advance directive can express both what you want and what you don’t want.

Myth #5. If I name a health care proxy, I give up the right to make my own decisions. False. Naming a health care agent proxy does not take away any of your authority. You always have the right, while you are still competent, to override the decision of your proxy or revoke the directive.

Myth #6. I should wait until I am sure about what I want before signing an advance directive. False. Most of us have some uncertainty or ambivalence about what we would want, and our goals of care change over time.

Myth #7. Just talking to my doctor and family about what I want is not legally effective. False. Meaningful discussion with your doctor and family is actually the most important step.

Myth #8. Once I give my doctor a signed copy of my directive, my task is done! False. You have just started.

Myth #9. If I am living at home and my Advance Directive says I don’t want to be resuscitated, EMS will not resuscitate me if I go into cardiac arrest. Usually False. Your advance directive will usually not help in this situation. If someone dials 911, EMH must attempt to resuscitate you and transport you to a hospital, UNLESS you have an out-of-hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) Order.

Myth #10. Advance directives are only for old people. False. It is true that more older, rather than younger, people use advance directives, but every adult needs one. For details, go to