Making health care decisions. Who decides when I can't?
What is an advance directive?
An advance directive is a document that states your preferences for health care decisions that may be required in the future. The Patient Self-Determination Act gives every adult who is of sound mind the right to formulate an advance directive. Properly completed and witnessed, an advance directive can guide critical health care decisions as you would wish, even when you are unable to speak for yourself.
Advance directives in California include the Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare (DPAHC) and the Natural Death Act Declaration to Physician. The declaration to physician is one type of "living will" legally recognized in California. However, the DPAHC is often viewed as the more helpful document since it identifies a person to speak for you in complex medical situations and the declaration to physician takes effect only when a person has a terminal condition or is in a permanently unconscious state.
Who decides when I can't?
When you complete a DPAHC, you appoint a family member or friend to make treatment decisions based on your wishes when you are not able to speak for yourself. This person is known as your attorney-in-fact, your agent or your surrogate for making health care decisions. In the DPAHC document, you outline details of medical care that are important to you.
How can I help to make my wishes known?
Talk to your doctor and your significant others about how you feel. If you have completed an advance directive give your agent, your alternative agents and your doctor a copy of your completed form. Each time you are admitted to the hospital bring a copy of your advance directive so that it can be easily available in your current medical record. Discuss your wishes frequently with your agent so that she or he is comfortable in interpreting your wishes to health care providers if you are unable to do so in the future. Pre-hospital forms may also be completed to let persons such as paramedics know that you do not wish certain types of treatment.
How can I learn more about advance directives?
For more information about advance directives and to download the form, please visit Advance Health Care Directives in Patient Forms. Sharp HealthCare also sponsors classes annually to help those who wish to understand advance directives and to complete appropriate forms. Classes generally are held in the spring or early summer.