Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Who decides about my treatment?
A: Your doctors will give you information and advice about treatment. You have the right to choose. You can say "Yes" to treatments you want. You can say "No" to any treatment you do not want -- even if the treatment might be to your benefit.
Q: How do I know what I want?
A: Your doctor must tell you about your medical condition and about what the different treatments can do for you. Often, more than one treatment might benefit you and people have different ideas about which is best. Your doctor can tell you which treatments are available to you, but your doctor cannot choose for you. That choice depends on what is important to you.
Q: What if I'm too sick to decide?
A: If you cannot make treatment decisions, your doctor will ask your closest available relative or friend to help decide what is best for you. Most of the time, that works. But sometimes everyone does not agree about what to do. That is why it is helpful if you say in advance what you want to happen if you cannot speak for yourself. There are several kinds of "advance directives" that you can use to say what you want and who you want to speak for you.
One kind of advance directive under California law lets you name someone to make health care decisions when you are unable. This form is called a "Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care."
You can if fill out the Durable Power of Attorney if you are 18 years or older and of sound mind. You do not need a lawyer to fill it out.
Q: Whom can I name to make medical treatment decisions when I'm unable to do so?
A: You can choose an adult relative or friend you trust as your "agent" to speak for you when you're too sick to make your own decision.
Q: How does this person know what I would want?
A: After you choose someone, talk to that person about what you want. You can also write down in the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care why you would or would not want medical treatment. Talk to your doctor about what you want and give your doctor a copy of the form. Give another copy to the person named as your agent. Take a copy with you when you go into a hospital or other treatment facility.
Sometimes treatment decisions are hard to make and it truly helps your family and your doctors if they know what you want. The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care also gives them legal protection when they follow your wishes.
Q: What if I don't have anybody to make decisions for me?
A: You can use another kind of advance directive to write down your wishes about treatment. This is often called a "living will" because it takes effect while you are still alive but have become unable to speak for yourself. The California Natural Death Act lets you sign a living will called a "Declaration". Anyone 18 years or older and of sound mind can sign it.
When you sign a Declaration, it tells your doctors that you don't want any treatment that would only prolong your condition. All life-sustaining treatment would be stopped if you were terminally ill and your death was expected soon or if you were permanently unconscious. You would still receive treatment, however, to keep you comfortable. The doctors must follow your wishes about limiting treatment or turn your care over to another doctor who will. Your doctors are also legally protected when they follow your wishes.
Q: Are there other living wills I can use?
A: Instead of using the Declaration in the Natural Death Act, you can use any of the available living will forms. You can use a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care form without naming an agent. Or you can just write down your wishes on a piece of paper. Your doctors and family can use what you wrote in deciding about your treatment. But living wills that do not meet the requirements of the Natural Death Act do not give as much legal protection for your doctors if a disagreement arises about following your wishes.
Q: What if I change my mind?
A: You can change or revoke any of these documents at any time as long as you can communicate your wishes. You should bring a photocopy of your new Advance Directive with you to the hospital.
Q: Do I have to fill out any of these documents?
A: No, you don't have to fill out any of these forms if you don't want to. You can talk with your doctors and ask them to write down what you've said in your medical chart and you can talk with your family. However, your relatives and friends will have a clearer idea about your treatment if you write them down. Also, your wishes are more likely to be followed if you write it down.