By Mel Huff Times Argus Staff

BURLINGTON — Vermonters now have a way to guarantee that they will receive the kind of medical care they want even if they are unable to communicate their wishes. The Vermont Department of Health has created an electronic registry for advance directives, which will ensure that the documents can be found.

“This new registry marks a significant innovation and added protection for Vermonters,” said John Campbell, executive director of the Vermont Ethics Network, a nonprofit organization formed to educate the public and policy-makers about ethical issues in health care.

“(The Vermont Advance Directive Registry) provides the peace of mind and security of knowing that their wishes, exactly as expressed in the advance directive, can be available immediately in a medical emergency or critical care situation,” he added.

Advance directives, also known as living wills or durable powers of attorney for health care, are legal documents which people can use to provide instructions about the kinds of life-sustaining treatment they want – and don’t want – if they should become so seriously injured or ill that they can’t make decisions for themselves. People also use the documents to authorize others to make health care decisions for them when they can’t.

Not only do advance directives provide legally binding instructions to doctors, but they relieve family members of the uncertainty – and in some cases guilt – that can result from making decisions for loved ones in the absence of clear written directions.

The Vermont Advance Directive Registry ensures that, in the event of a crisis, advance directives can be found and the people designated to make decisions located. “Vermont is one of only a handful of states that has an electronic registry for sharing this vital information,” Campbell said.

Only authorized health care providers and facilities, funeral directors and crematory operators will have access to the registry. Information transmitted via the Internet will be encrypted.

Advance directive forms and guidelines for what to consider in making decisions about care can be found on the Vermont Ethics Network Web site.

Any Vermonter over the age of 18 can write an advance directive. Most states honor those from other states, although some states have special requirements. New Hampshire, for example, requires that advance directives be notarized.

Family members, primary care physicians and hospitals should be given copies of advance directives, and people who travel out of state should carry a photocopy of the document.

For more information on advance directives, visit

Vermont Ethics Network: http://www.vtethicsnetwork.org/

Vt. Dept. of Health: http://www.healthvermont.gov/vadr/