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Advance Directives: Frequently Asked
What are advance directives?
"Advance directive" is a general term that refers to
your oral and written instructions about your future
medical care, in the event that you become unable to
speak for yourself. Each state regulates the use of
advance directives differently. There are two types of
advance directives: a living will and a medical power of
attorney. What is a living will?
A living will is a type of advance directive in which
you put in writing your wishes about medical treatment
should you be unable to communicate at the end of life.
Your state law may define when the living will goes into
effect, and may limit the treatments to which the living
will applies. Your right to accept or refuse treatment
is protected by constitutional and common law. What is a
medical power of attorney?
A medical power of attorney is a document that enables
you to appoint someone you trust to make decisions about
your medical care if you cannot make those decisions
yourself. This type of advance directive may also be
called a "health care proxy" or "appointment of a health
care agent." The person you appoint may be called your
health care agent, surrogate, attorney-in-fact, or
proxy. In many states, the person you appoint through a
medical power of attorney is authorized to speak for you
any time you are unable to make your own medical
decisions, not only at the end of life. Why do I need an
Advance directives give you a voice in decisions about
your medical care when you are unconscious or too ill to
communicate. As long as you are able to express your own
decisions, your advance directives will not be used, and
you can accept or refuse any medical treatment. But if
you become seriously ill, you may lose the ability to
participate in decisions about your own treatment. What
laws govern the use of advance directives?
Both federal and state laws govern the use of advance
directives. The federal law, the Patient
Self-Determination Act, requires health care facilities
that receive Medicaid and Medicare funds to inform
patients of their rights to execute advance directives.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws
recognizing the use of advance directives. The booklet,
"Questions and Answers: Advance Directives and
End-of-Life Decisions," available from Choice In Dying,
offers more information about advance directives.
If you would like to receive an Advance Directives
package for your state call 1-800-989-WILL (9455).
Choice In Dying, a non-profit organization asks for
$10.00 for each set of documents to cover costs. When
ordering, specify the state(s) for which you wish to
order documents. You can also download these documents
from the WorldWide Web free of charge at
These materials are copyrighted by Choice In Dying. Use
by individuals for personal and family benefit is
specifically authorized and encouraged. Any other use,
such as for commercial or group purposes, without the
written approval of Choice In Dying, is prohibited. ©
1997 CHOICE IN DYING
Choice in Dying, Inc. was dissolved in year 2000, and
its assets and programs were assigned to "Partnership
for Caring: America's Voices for the Dying." They can be
reached at 1-800-989-WILL (9455) or online at