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What Is an Advance Directive?

An advance directive is a legal document that says how you want your medical care to be handled if you are unable to do so yourself. An advance directive is used to give instructions to your healthcare team and loved ones when they need to make these decisions or to choose who will make them for you if you can't.

Your healthcare team may have to take special steps or help you in an emergency because of these decisions. A "living will" can help you think about the kind of care you want before you need it.

Advance directives only affect decisions about health care.

They have nothing to do with money or finances. Different states have different rules about what you can and can't do with a living will. Talk to your doctor or an attorney about filling out your advance directive while you are still healthy, in case you get too sick or can't make your own medical decisions in the future.

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The Patient Self-Decision Act

The Patient Self-Determination Act (PSDA) of 1990 tells everyone to decide ahead of time what kind and how much medical care they want or don't want if they get sick and can't decide for themselves.

The PSDA says that hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies, hospice programs, and Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) must:

  • To give patients information on their state laws about their rights to make decisions about their care.

  • To find out if patients have an advance directive.

  • To recognize the advance directive and honor the patient's wishes.

  • Never discriminate against patients based on whether they have filled out an advance directive or not.

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Patients can't be forced by healthcare facilities to have advance directives: It is up to the person.

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