Instructions for Your Future Medical Care
An advance directive refers to your oral and written instructions about your future
medical care in the event you become unable to speak for yourself. Each state regulates
the use of advance directives differently. There are two types of advance directives:
a living will and a medical power of attorney.
A living will is a type of advance directive where you put your wishes about medical treatment in writing, in case you should become unable to communicate at the end of your life. State law defines when the living will goes into effect and may limit the treatment to which the living will applies. Your right to accept or refuse treatment is protected by constitutional and common law.
Medical Power of Attorney
A medical power of attorney is a document that enables you to appoint someone you trust to make decisions about your medical care if you cannot make those decisions yourself. This type of advance directive may also be called a "health care proxy" or "appointment of a health care agent."
The person you appoint may be called your health care agent, surrogate, attorney-in-fact or proxy. In many states, the person you appoint through a medical power of attorney is authorized to speak if you are unable to make your own medical decisions at any time, not only at the end of life.
Both federal and state laws govern the use of advance directives. The Patient Self-Determination Act requires health care facilities which receive Medicare and Medicaid funds to inform patients of their rights to execute advance directives.