An advance health care directive is a document that individuals can execute when they wish to provide instructions as to how and by whom medical decisions should be made for them in the event they become incapable of making them personally.
In California, an advance directive allows you to do the following:
First, you may appoint another person to be your health care agent. An agent is responsible for making health care decisions should you lose the ability to make such decisions for yourself. An agent is responsible for carrying out your wishes as you have expressed them in your advance directive or in discussions with the agent.
Second, you may memorialize your health care wishes on the advance directive form setting out the types of treatment you would or would not like to receive in certain situations. For example, you may write down your desire not to receive treatment that only prolongs the process of dying if you are seriously ill.
Health care providers must follow both the individual’s health care instructions set forth in the advance directive and the decisions made on that individual’s behalf by his or her agent.
When does it take effect?
An advance health care directive only goes into effect when the individual’s physician decides that the individual no longer has the capacity to make his or her own health care decisions. In other words, the physician must believe that you are unable to understand the nature and consequences of proposed treatment or that you are not able to make or communicate your health care decisions.
The advance directive is no longer in effect once the individual regains capacity to make his or her own health care decisions.
Where do I store a copy of the advance directive?
You should keep a copy of the advance directive for yourself in a safe place, but also where easily accessible. You should also give a copy of the advance directive to your agent, if you have appointed one. In addition, each of your health care providers should have a copy of the advance directive. Health care providers are legally required to place the advance directive in the individual’s medical records.
It is important for you to keep track of who has a copy of your advance directive. If you decide to make any changes or revoke any individual health care instruction or your designation of an agent, then you should let each person who has a copy of the advance directive to know about the change.