Health Care Decision Making
You have the right to decide the type of health care you want.
Should you become unable to understand, make or communicate decisions about medical care, your wishes for medical treatment are most likely to be followed if you express those wishes in advance by:
- Naming a health care Agent to decide treatment for you; and
- Giving health care treatment instructions to your health care Agent or health care provider.
An advance health care directive is a written set of instructions expressing your wishes for medical treatment. It may contain a health care power of attorney, where you name a person called a “health care Agent” to decide treatment for you, and a living will, where you tell your health care Agent and health care providers your choices regarding the initiation, continuation, withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment and other specific directions.
You may limit your health care Agent’s involvement in deciding your medical treatment so that your health care Agent will speak for you only when you are unable to speak for yourself or you may give your health care Agent the power to speak for you immediately. A Durable Health Care Power of Attorney gives your health care Agent the power to speak for you only when you are unable to speak for yourself. A Living Will cannot be followed unless your attending physician determines that you lack the ability to understand, make or communicate health care decisions for yourself and you are either permanently unconscious or you have an end-stage medical condition, which is a condition that will result in death despite the introduction or continuation of medical treatment. You, and not your health care Agent, remain responsible for the cost of your medical care.
If you do not write down your wishes about your health care in advance, and if later you become unable to understand, make or communicate these decisions, those wishes may not be honored because they may remain unknown to others.
A health care provider who refuses to honor your wishes about health care must tell you of its refusal and help to transfer you to a health care provider who will honor your wishes.
You should give a copy of your advance health care directive (a living will, health care power of attorney or a document containing both) to your health care Agent, your physicians, family members and others whom you would expect would likely attend to your needs if you become unable to understand, make or communicate decisions about medical care. If your health care wishes change, tell your physician and write a new advance health care directive to replace your old one. It is important in selecting a health care Agent that you choose a person you trust who is likely to be available in a medical situation where you cannot make decisions for yourself. You should inform that person that you have appointed him or her as your health care Agent and discuss your belief and values with him or her so that your health care Agent will understand your health care objectives.
You may wish to consult with knowledgeable, trusted individuals such as family members, your physician or clergy when considering an expression of your values and health care wishes.
Pennsylvania law protects your health care Agent and health care providers from any legal liability for following in good faith your wishes as expressed in your Durable Health Care Power of Attorney or by your health care Agent’s direction. It does not otherwise change professional standards or excuse negligence in the way your wishes are carried out.