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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Schiavo Case Puts Living Wills in Spotlight

Living Wills Make Life-or-Death Decisions Clearer

What treatments are covered?

The durable power of attorney for health care document allows a patient to name someone with broad or specific powers to provide consent or refusal for any type of health care. Durable powers of attorney for health care are very flexible documents, allowing both the naming of someone to make decisions for the patient when the patient is unable to do so, and the specification of the treatments that the patient wants or does not want to receive.

Who can be given durable power of attorney for health care?

Anyone over the age of 18 can be named except for the doctor (or those employed by the doctor) who is providing care to the patient. The person named has no legal obligation to serve and is not responsible for the financial costs associated with treatment.

Who can complete a durable power of attorney for health care?

Any adult of sound mind may complete a durable power of attorney for health care. Living wills and durable powers of attorney for health care are often prepared without the assistance of lawyers by using standard forms. The durable power of attorney for health care document must be witnessed by two adults or notarized. Such documents and procedures vary by state.

Can more than one durable power of attorney be named?

Only one person can serve at a time, but other individuals can be named as successor agents if the first individual named as the agent is not able or is unwilling to serve.

Can a durable power of attorney for health care be revoked?

The patient can revoke a durable power of attorney for health care at any time and in any manner by simply tearing up the durable power of attorney for health care document, expressing orally to witnesses the desire to revoke the document, or in writing. Health care professionals who witness such revocations should document them in the medical record.

How are the living will and durable power of attorney for health care implemented?

Both documents, called advance directives, require that two doctors determine that the patient has lost the capacity to make health care decisions. A living will has the additional requirement that the patient must be suffering from a terminal condition or is in an irreversible coma.

What are some other differences between the durable power of attorney for health care and the living will?

The living will simply requires the withholding or withdrawal of life-prolonging treatment, whereas the durable power of attorney for health care names a specific person who is authorized to make decisions for the patient. Specific instructions may be given in the durable power of attorney for health care, but they are not required.

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