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Medical pre-planning: Advanced health care directives

Orange County patients are more involved now, perhaps more than any time in the past, in making decisions about the medical care they receive. There are times when a person is unable to exercise that control. Serious injuries caused by an accident and physical or mental limitations late in life may rob a person of the ability to make these choices.

Events like these cannot be predicted. However, legal options are available that give you the opportunity to make advance plans for medical treatment in the event of temporary or permanent incapacity. Under California probate law, advance health care directives can be used to designate a health care decision maker or proxy, who acts in your place when you cannot make medical choices.

With a health care power of attorney, you may choose almost anyone to make medical decisions on your behalf. California law does not permit a health care provider or provider's employee to be designated as an agent unless the provider also is your relative or co-worker. Additionally, you may name an alternate agent or agents in case the original designee will not or cannot make health care choices for you.

You can restrict the types of medical decisions you want an agent to make including the approval or refusal of treatment, medications, tests, surgery and life-supporting functions like cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Without limitations, an agent may change or add health care providers, make autopsy and organ donation choices and decide how to dispose of your remains. Decisions about medical treatment can be modified or revoked as long as you have the capacity to make these changes.

An attorney can facilitate the process of preparing and formalizing an advanced health care directive. It's advisable to discuss the matter thoroughly with the proposed agent in advance of signing any agreement. Additionally, inform family members and your primary care physician to avoid confusion and conflict.

Source: American Bar Association, "Living Wills, Health Care Proxies, & Advance Health Care Directives," accessed July 08, 2015

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