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Doctors’ duties regarding your Advance Health Care Directive

On Behalf of | May 2, 2022 | Estate Planning |

A California Advance Health Care Directive is a crucial part of any estate plan. All adults can benefit from having one in place because it allows you to make your wishes for medical treatment or ending of treatment known if you’re unable to speak for yourself. 

Most people use their directives to specify, among other things, under what circumstances they want life-prolonging measures to end. This can save your loved ones the heartbreaking responsibility of making this decision on your behalf – for example, if you’re in a coma. Even worse is when family members disagree on the best course of action in these situations.

The role of a health care agent

When you create your directive, it’s wise to choose someone to be your health care agent. You give them power of attorney (POA) over your health care. This allows them to get information on your condition from your medical team and discuss your treatment with them. Their responsibility is to advocate for you and for the wishes you’ve detailed.

Even if you choose not to appoint an agent or your chosen agent isn’t available when needed, your directive is still valid. That means your medical providers (even if you’re somewhere far from home) typically have a duty to follow it. 

When can doctors refuse to follow an advance directive?

There are some exceptions, however, when they’re not required to follow it. For example:

  • If the doctor or over medical professional has a conscientious objection to your wishes
  • If your wishes go against the policy of the hospital or other health care facility where you’re being treated
  • If your wishes would involve providing a substandard level of health care
  • If you’re pregnant (unless your directive addresses that potential scenario)

While doctors can decline to follow your wishes in these limited circumstances, that doesn’t mean they can do whatever they choose instead. They have to inform your agent that they can’t follow it so that they can determine how best to handle the matter – for example, find another doctor or facility. That’s one reason why it’s best to have a health care agent.

By having experienced legal guidance as you develop your California Advance Health Care Directive, you can also avoid including things that could lead to the exceptions detailed above. You can include clear, comprehensive language that will accurately convey your wishes and beliefs.