Q: My best friend of over thirty years recently lost her battle with cancer and it was very hard for me to not only lose her, but to have to watch her children make heartbreaking final decisions. I want to know what I can do now so that my kids won’t ever have to decide to pull the plug if something happens to me.
A: It is always hard to lose a close friend. If your friend had planned ahead and had something called an Advance Health Care Directive, it may have made her final moments a bit easier for her family, but there is still time for you to plan ahead.
California law provides individuals the ability to insure that their health care wishes are known and considered if they become unable to make these decisions themselves. In Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dept. of Health, 497 U.S. 261 1990, the Unites States Supreme Court ruled that “clear and convincing” evidence of an individual’s wishes about medical care should be followed, even if they conflict with the wishes of close family members.
An Advance Health Care Directive enables individuals to write out specific instructions that describe the medical care they do or do not want to receive if for any reason they are incapacitated and unable to speak for themselves. It also allows a patient to appoint a health care "agent" who will have legal authority to make health care decisions. Be sure to name someone that you trust, because they will supervise your wishes and will direct your healthcare decisions in any situations that are not specifically covered in your written Advance Health Care Directive. Also in your directive you can name a primary care physician or state whether you wish to donate any organs or body parts after your death.
A person who has executed an Advance Health Care Directive may register that information with the California Secretary of State. The information is given to the registrant’s healthcare provider, public guardian, or legal representative upon request. You should also provide a copy of your directive to your physician, health care providers, hospital or other health care institution that is providing your care, family members, and the person you appoint as your agent.
The law library has several books available on this topic, including a very popular book Living Wills & Powers of Attorney for California published by Nolo Press. Our librarians have created a Legal Research Guide on this topic available on our website. When looking to draft your Advanced Health Care Directive, there is not one standard form available, although most samples and templates will be very similar to each other. We have a sample available on our website at www.saclaw.org that can be edited. The Office of the Attorney General has a fillable version that can be printed. The California Medical Association publishes an Advance Health Care Directive kit which includes forms and wallet cards. These kits are available online for purchase starting at $6.00 at www.cmanet.org . General information about Advance Health Care Directives is available from the California Attorney General’s Office .
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