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Advance Directive

Your Right To Make Decisions About Medical Treatment

This information explains your rights to make health care decisions and how you can plan what should be done when you can not speak for yourself.

Federal law requires us to give you this information. We hope this information will help increase your control over your medical treatment.

The California Consortium on Patient Self-Determination prepared the proceeding text, which has been adopted by the California Department of Health Services to implement Public Law 101-508.

Advance Directive FAQs

Who decides about my treatment?

Your doctors will give you information and advice about treatment. You have the right to choose. You can say "Yes" to treatments you want. You can say "No" to any treatment you don’t want - even if the treatment might keep you alive longer.

How do I know what I want?

Your doctor must tell you about your medical condition and about what different treatments can do for you. Many treatments have side effects. Your doctor must offer you information about serious problems that medical treatment is likely to cause you. Often, more than one treatment might help you - and people have different ideas about which is best. Your doctor can tell you which treatments are available to you, but your doctor can not choose for you. That choice depends on what is important to you.

What if I am too sick to decide?

If you can not make treatment decisions, your doctor will ask your closest available relative or friend to help decide what is best for you. Most of the time, that works. But sometimes not everyone agrees about what to do. That is why it is helpful if you say in advance what you want to happen if you can not speak for yourself. There are several kinds of advance directives that you can use to say what you want and who you want to speak for you. One kind of advance directive under California law lets you name someone to make health care decisions when you can not. This form is called a Durable Power Of Attorney For Health Care.

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Who can fill out this form?

You can if you are 18 years or older and of sound mind. You do not need a lawyer to fill it out.

Who can I name to make medical treatment decisions when I'm unable to do so?

You can choose an adult relative or friend you trust as your agent to speak for you when you are too sick to make your own decisions.

How does this person know what I would want?

After you choose someone, talk to that person about what you want. You can also write down in the Durable Power Of Attorney For Health Care when you would or would not want medical treatment. Talk to your doctor about what you want and give your doctor a copy of the form. Give another copy to the person named as your agent. And take a copy with you when you go into a hospital or other treatment facility. Sometimes treatment decisions are hard to make and it truly helps your family and your doctors if they know what you want. The Durable Power Of Attorney For Health Care also gives them legal protection when they follow your wishes.

What if I don’t have anybody to make decisions for me?

You can use another kind of advance directive to write down your wishes about treatment. This is often called a Living Will because it takes effect while you are still alive but have become unable to speak for yourself. The California Natural Death Act lets you sign a living will called a Declaration. Anyone 18 years or older and of sound mind can sign one. When you sign a Declaration it tells your doctors that you do not want any treatment that would only prolong your dying. All life-sustaining treatment would be stopped if you were terminally ill and your death was expected soon, or if you were permanently unconscious. However, you would still receive treatment to keep you comfortable.

The doctors must follow your wishes about limiting treatment or turn your care over to another doctor who will. Your doctors are also legally protected when they follow your wishes.

Are there other living wills I can use?

Instead of using the Declaration in the Natural Death Act, you can use any of the available living will forms. You can use a Durable Power Of Attorney For Health Care form without naming an agent. Or you can just write down your wishes on a piece of paper. Your doctors and family can use what you write in deciding about your treatment. But living wills that do not meet the requirements of the Natural Death Act do not give as much legal protection for your doctors if a disagreement arises about following your wishes.

What if I change my mind?

You can change or revoke any of these documents at any time as long as you can communicate your wishes.

Do I have to fill out one of these forms?

No, you do not have to fill out any of these forms if you do not want to. You can just talk with your doctors and ask them to write down what you have said in your medical chart. And you can talk with your family. But people will be more clear about your treatment wishes if you write them down. And your wishes are more likely to be followed if you write them down.

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Will I still be treated if I don’t fill out these forms?

Absolutely. You will still get medical treatment. We just want you to know that, if you become too sick to make decisions, someone else will have to make them for you. Remember that: a Durable Power Of Attorney For Health Care lets you name someone to make treatment decisions for you. That person can make most medical decisions - not just those about life-sustaining treatment - when you can not speak for yourself. Besides naming an agent, you can also use the form to say when you would and would not want particular kinds of treatment. If you do not have someone you want to name to make decisions when you can not, you can sign a Natural Death Act Declaration. This Declaration says that you do not want life prolonging treatment if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious.

How can I get more information about advance directives?

Ask your doctor, nurse, or social worker to get more information for you.

Foregoing Life Sustaining Treatment (Advance Directive)

Oral or written instruction made in advance and relating to the provision of health care when an individual is incapacitated.

The hospital and the medical staff support your right to actively participate in decisions regarding your health care program, including decisions regarding the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment. In compliance with federal law, you will be given information regarding these rights upon your admission to the hospital.

If you wish to document your health care preferences or appoint another person to make health care decisions on your behalf, contact the Admitting Department at extension 5521 for a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care form. Should you need assistance in completing an Advance Directive, contact the Social Service Department at extension 5645.

Any complaints you may have concerning Advance Directive requirements may be made to the Department of Health Services.

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