Information on New Advance Health Care Directives Law
The Pennsylvania legislature enacted a new law for advance health care directives, which is called Act 169 of 2006, and took effect on January 29, 2007. This new comprehensive law now governs advance health care directives and health care decisions for incompetent patients. Although the new law does not invalidate any living will you may have currently, we encourage you to seriously consider replacing any existing living will you may have with an advance health care directive consistent with the new law because it provides greater flexibility in crafting and communicating to loved ones end life care instructions. Below are some notable highlights from Act 169.
Unlike under the former law, Act 169 permits health care decisions to be made for a patient who becomes incompetent through: (1) instructions from the patient in a living will, (2) instructions from a health care agent appointed by the patient in a health care power of attorney, or (3) directions from a close family member or other health care representative designated by the patient in a living will or healthcare power of attorney or, if the patient does not have a living will or healthcare power of attorney, from a list of priority persons authorized by default under the law (i.e. spouse and adult child who is not the child of the spouse, adult child, parent, adult sibling, adult grandchild, and close friend who is knowledgeable of the patient’s preferences and values). The Act also provides for out-of-hospital do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders, which direct emergency medical service providers to withhold cardiopulmonary resuscitation from the patient in the event of cardiac or respiratory arrest. This flexible framework allows a patient to state his or her advanced health care directives in: (1) a living will, where the patient states his or her personal desires regarding life-sustaining treatment and end-of-life care, (2) health care power of attorney, where the patient appoints a person known as the patient’s health care agent to make health care decisions for the patient, or (3) a combination document incorporating features of both a living will and a health care power of attorney. To ease use of the new law, Act 169 provides for use of a non-mandatory form.
As you may know, use of an advance health care directive is an important tool to enable you to stay in charge of your end-of-life and other future health care stage. There may be times in your life when you cannot make your own health care choices. An advance health care directive helps you plan for your care in these situations by allowing you to have a voice in your care when you cannot speak for yourself, whether communicated specifically in an advance health care directive or through a person you choose in the directive to speak for you. Your advance health care directive can help comfort your family and friends when you have a serious medical problem, as it communicates in writing your treatment preferences and spares them from making difficult decisions without knowing your personal preferences.
Should you wish to discuss further changes in the new law and/or have a new health care directive prepared consistent with Act 169 please contact one of our estate planning attorneys.