You may want to have what is called an advance health care directive which tells your doctor and the hospital what you want to have done under certain conditions. This can be something simple, stating what you want, and designating a person to make decisions for you if you are unable to do so. There are a number of different kinds of documents that can be used to do this.
A living will deals with decisions that need to be made about your health care if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious. Requirements vary from one state to another. Usually this must be written and signed by you, and often must be witnessed and notarized. In this document you can indicate whether you want to be resuscitated if your breathing or heart stops. This is when you would have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) which can include shocking your heart, and putting in a tube so that a ventilator can breathe for you. You may or may not want a ventilator, or a tube put into your stomach if you can’t eat.
A durable power of attorney for health care allows you to select someone to act on your behalf if you cannot say what you want to have done.
When you try and decide the answers to these questions, involving your family in the decisions, if possible, will make things much easier when the need arises. There may be disagreements. Your spouse may want you to have all treatment no matter what, but you may not, or vice versa. If you can talk about it and your spouse can come to understand how you feel, it will be much better for everyone.
If you decide that you do not want to be resuscitated, meaning you don’t want anything done if you stop breathing or your heart stops, that information can be noted on your hospital chart. In some states, you can have a similar directive outside the hospital, so that paramedics would not resuscitate you.
You need to make sure you have explained your wishes to your family, and especially to the person who you are asking to make the decisions for you if are designating someone to do that (called a proxy).
Just because you are talking about difficult issues and what may happen later, it does not mean that you have given up or your doctors have given up. For many people it is actually easier to talk about it early on, before a decision about life-sustaining treatment or resuscitation has to be made.