Patients have the right to make their own choices regarding their health care, including the right to accept or refuse medical or surgical treatment. One way patients can make their health care wishes known is through Advance Care Planning. The law requires hospitals to ask each patient upon admission whether or not they have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, also known as a Living Will or an Advance Directive.
Advance Care Planning is a way to understand, talk about and communicate your health care choices with your loved ones and health care providers in the event you cannot speak for yourself.
In a Living Will, an individual names a trusted "advocate" to make or carry out their health care decisions in the event they are unable to make decisions themselves. The patient is also encouraged to include instructions about his or her specific values and choices regarding life-prolonging medical care. By signing (several signatures, including witnesses, are required); the advocate accepts the designation of Patient Advocate and agrees to honor the patient's wishes.
Advance directives are entirely voluntary but are highly recommended for anyone 18 years of age and older. Copies of the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care can become part of your medical record and given to your health care providers.
For those interested in creating one, hospital personnel are available to help patients understand the process and help guide the discussion for appointing a Patient Advocate. Regardless of whether or not a patient has an advance directive, patients and families may discuss with the attending physician their wishes regarding providing, withholding, or withdrawing care or medical treatment.
Help with Difficult Decisions
Sometimes decisions about a patient's treatment or next step become difficult or ethically complex, particularly when considering life-sustaining treatment or interpreting a patient's advance directive.
In such cases, representatives from the hospital's Healthcare Ethics Committee are available to consult with patients, their families or their doctors. The Ethics Committee is made up of physicians, nurses, ethicists, spiritual care staff, social workers, legal representatives and other support stuff who have been specially trained to assist families in talking through and sorting out difficult treatment decisions. Patients or family members may arrange a meeting through their nurse or physician, or by calling Spiritual Care Services.