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An Advance Health Care Directive is a document that instructs others about the medical care you wish to receive once you are no longer able to make or communicate your decisions. It also allows you to appoint an individual who will be in charge of communicating with your doctors and other health care providers on your behalf, making sure that your health care choices are followed and respected. This document only becomes effective under circumstances outlined in the document.
How to use this document
Once you appoint a Health Care Agent (also known as a "durable power of attorney for health care," "attorney-in-fact," "health care representative," or "health care proxy," depending on which state you are in), they will have the legal authority to make health care decisions for you when you are no longer able to speak or advocate for yourself. Generally, people select close family members, such as spouses or children, or long-time friends to fill this role. However, any other person who you believe will respect your wishes and make sure that your expectations will be met can fill this role. The only exception is that this person may not be your health care provider or employed by your health care provider.
This document also allows you to make specific instructions about what sorts of medical care you would or would not like to receive if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness or are in an irreversible coma or permanent vegetative state. This section of the document is commonly known as a Living Will. This section outlines which treatments you do or do not consent to and situations in which you would want life-sustaining medical treatment provided or withdrawn. This document is also useful to your Health Care Agent in determining what you would want done if you did have the capacity to make your wishes known at that time. The directive allows you to make decisions about some of the most common treatments such as CPR and artificial nourishment (food) and hydration (water) through tubes.
This document includes everything you need to make your Advance Care Directive legally enforceable, including spaces for you and and two witnesses to sign. There are also spaces for additional witnesses to sign under specific circumstances, a form for your health care agent to sign accepting the role, and a notary page to have your document notarized in the states where these additional requirements must be met in order for your document to be legally enforceable.
Advance Health Care Directives in the United States are subject to the laws of individual states, so the document changes to conform to your particular state's laws. There is no federal law concerning Advance Health Care Directives. However, the Uniform Rights of the Terminally Ill Act of 1985, which provides guidelines and standards that all Advance Health Care Directives should follow, has been adopted by many states. Several states (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, and Vermont) also have Advance Health Care Directive registries where you can record a copy of your Directive so that it is easily accessible by any health care provider in your state who provides you with treatment.
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