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Questions & Answers

Advance Directives & Your Rights

What are my rights to accept, reject or stop medical care or treatment?

In Pennsylvania, adults generally have the right to decide if they want to accept, to reject or to discontinue medical care and treatment. In order to protect and safeguard this right, however, it may be necessary to execute an advance directive for health care (also known as a living will) and/or a durable power of attorney for health care. For example, under a criminal law known as Act 28 of 1995, caretakers such as owners, managers or employees of nursing homes and other health institutions have an affirmative duty to provide necessary medical care to individuals within their care. Caretakers are relieved of this duty only if they can demonstrate that the patient has competently refused the medical care or treatment, or the person, if incompetent, previously executed a living will or durable power of attorney for health care indicating that he or she does not wish to receive medical care or treatment in question.

What does my doctor have to tell me about my care and treatment?

Your doctor should provide you with all of the information which a person in your situation reasonably would want to know in order to make an informed decision about a proposed procedure or course of treatment. This means that your doctor should tell you about the risks and benefits of the medical procedure or course of treatment which he or she is recommending, possible side effects, and alternatives, if any, to the proposed procedure or course of treatment. Your may accept or reject your doctor's advice and you may seek a second opinion.

Does my health care provider have to tell me if it will not honor my wishes?

Yes. The law requires your health care provider (hospital, nursing home, home health care service, hospice or HMO) to give you a written statement of its policies. For example, upon admission to a hospital, you must be informed as to whether the hospital will not honor your wish to have food and water withheld or withdrawn under certain circumstances.

If I become physically or mentally unable to make a decision about my medical care or treatment, what can I do now to guarantee that my wishes will be followed later?

There is no law in Pennsylvania which guarantees that a health care provider will follow your instructions in every circumstance. There are, however, steps you can take to express your wishes about future treatment. One of these steps is to write and sign an advance directive.

What is an advance directive?

An advance directive is a written document that you may use, under certain circumstances, to tell others what care you would like to receive or not receive should you become unable to express your wishes at some time in the future. An advance directive may take many forms. In Pennsylvania, two types are specifically authorized: (1) a living will, also known as an advance directive for health care and (2) a durable power of attorney for health care.


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