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Advance Directives/Living Will


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What kind of medical care would you want if you were too ill or hurt to express your wishes? A time may come when you are unable to make your own healthcare decisions. Although you may prefer not to think about such a situation, it is important to be prepared for the difficult decisions that may need to be made about the intensity of medical care or whether life support should be continued or withdrawn.

Having an Advance Directive can help comfort your family and friends when you have a serious medical problem. By sharing your treatment wishes in a written document, you spare them from having to make difficult decisions without knowing what you wanted.

The State of Pennsylvania recognizes two forms of Advance Directives:

1. A Living Will is a document/legal paper stating your wishes about treatment. A Living Will only takes effect when:
  • Your physician has a copy of it; and
  • Your physician has determined you are unable to make decisions about your medical care; and
  • Your physician and a second physician have determined that you are in a terminal condition or in a state of permanent unconsciousness.
2. A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare Decisions is a legal paper on which you name someone to make medical decisions for you if you cannot speak for yourself.

In 1990, the U.S. Congress passed the Patient Self-Determination Act. This Act requires that all hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and clinics that receive Federal funds ask their patients whether they have a Living Will or Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare Decisions. This Act does not require that you fill out these papers. But not having them can cause problems if you are not able to communicate when very ill. The Pennsylvania State Legislature passed similar legislation to protect the rights and responsibilities of sick patients.

To make sure that your choices about life support are carried out, take a copy of your Living Will and/or Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare Decisions for your medical chart when admitted to a hospital, nursing home, hospice or clinic. If you don't have these papers when you enter one of these healthcare centers, ask your family to bring a copy for your records, or someone from these facilities can assist you in completing one.

PinnacleHealth Hospitals and its operating entities support the law and have several of its own policies in effect concerning a patient's medical care. These include:  Patients Rights and Responsibilities, Advance Directives (Living Will Declaration and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare Decisions), Refusing Medical Treatment, Informed Consent, "Level of Intensity" and Anatomical Gifts (Donation of Organs and Tissue). Look under Resources to the right to download these documents.

Click on frequently asked questions for more information about Advanced Directives.