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Advance health care directives

An Advance Health Care Directive (also referred to as a durable power of attorney for health care) allows you to appoint a person to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so.

The person you appoint, known as your “agent,” will have the legal authority to make decisions about your medical care if you are unconscious or cannot make these decisions for yourself. You appoint your agent by completing an Advance Health Care Directive form. This forms also allows you to write down your wishes with respect to the medical treatment which will be rendered to you. For example, you can state that you do (or do not) want “heroic measures,” or other treatment which will lengthen the dying process if you are terminally ill.

Your agent is legally bound to follow your wishes, as written in your Advance Health Care Directive form. If you are incapacitated, your agent will have the ultimate authority to decide what treatment you will or will not receive. The agent will have access to your medical records, and he or she will decide whether to accept specific treatment, whether your organs should be donated, whether an autopsy should be conducted, and how your remains should be disposed of. Of course, you may limit your agent’s authority when you complete the Advance Health Care Directive form.

However, under California law, your agent may not authorize convulsive treatment, psycho-surgery, sterilization or abortion, and may not have you committed to a mental institution.

If you have appointed an agent, but have not given that person clear directions as to your wishes, the agent will exercise his or her judgment when the need arises. Of course, your agent will not be responsible for paying for any treatment you receive.

Unless you include a specific end date in the form, the Advance Health Care Directive will be valid indefinitely. Also, if you change your mind about the Advance Health Care Directive after you sign it, simply retrieve and destroy all copies of the form, and complete a new form.

An Advance Health Care Directive enables you to:

1. Give instructions about your own health care
An Advance Health Care Directive lets you give specific instructions about health care decisions. Choices are provided for you to express your wishes regarding the provision, withholding, or withdrawal of treatment to keep you alive if you have a terminal medical condition or if you become permanently unconscious, including the provision of artificial nutrition and hydration as well as the provision of pain relief.

2. Name an agent to make health care decisions for you if you become incapable of making your own decisions
The Advance Health Care Directive allows you name another individual as an agent to make health care decisions for you if you can no longer make your own decisions. You may also name an alternate agent.

3. Express an intention to donate bodily organs and/or tissue following your death
The Advance Health Care Directive also allows you, if you wish, to designate anatomical gifts to take effect upon your death.