Patients & Visitors
Your Right to Make Decisions about Medical Treatment
This Web page explains your rights to make health care decisions and how you can plan what should be done when you can't speak for yourself. A federal law requires us to give you this information. We hope this information will help increase your control over your medical treatment.
Whom 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're 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 wouldn't want medical treatment. Talk to your physician about what you want, and give your physician 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 physicians 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 physicians that you don’t 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. You would still receive treatment to keep you comfortable, however.
The physicians must follow your wishes about limiting treatment or turn your care over to another physician who will. Your physicians 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 physicians and family can use what you write in deciding about your treatment. But living wills that don't meet the requirements of the California Natural Death Act don't give as much legal protection for your physicians 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 don't have to fill out any of these forms if you don’t want to. You can just talk with your physicians and ask them to write down what you’'ve said in your medical chart, and you can talk with your family. But people will be clearer about your treatment wishes if you write them down, and your wishes are more likely to be followed if you write them down.
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't speak for yourself. Besides naming an agent, you can also use the form to say when you would and wouldn't want particular kinds of treatment.
If you don’t have someone you want to name to make decisions when you can’t, 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 physician, nurse or social worker to get more information for you.
The California Consortium on Patient Self-Determination prepared the preceding text, which has been adopted by the California Department of Health Services to implement Public Law 101-508 4/97.
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