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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Special Topics > Advanced Care Directives

Advanced Care Directives

Alternate Names : Living Will, Health Care Power of Attorney, Advance Health Care Directive

Advanced Care Directives are documents in which a person gives instructions to family and healthcare providers. They provide directions regarding future medical care. They are used when an individual becomes unable to make decisions. They can also be used when the person can't communicate decisions personally.


In the U.S., the Patient Self- Determination Act gives people the right to accept or refuse treatment. Advanced care directives are documents that communicate these decisions. The type of documents vary from state to state, but they may include the following:

  • Living Will
  • Health Care Power of Attorney
  • Advance Health Care Directive
  • A Living Will allows people to define what treatment they want to receive in certain situations. They can also refuse any treatment. For example, people can give instructions about what to do if they have a terminal illness. The Living Will can also define what to do if someone becomes permanently unconscious. Individuals can spell out what treatments they want withheld or stopped if they are dying without hope of recovery. These treatments may include the following:

  • cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR
  • feeding tubes
  • ventilators, or artificial breathing machines
  • intravenous lines, or IVs
  • antibiotics
  • A Health Care Power of Attorney, or HCPA, allows people to pick someone to make their healthcare decisions for them if they are incapacitated. It can cover any healthcare decision. The person does not need to be dying or unconscious for it to take effect.

    An Advance Health Care Directive has some of the features of the Living Will. It also has features of the HCPA. Some states have special forms or requirements for this type of document.

    Laws and documents for Advanced Care Directives vary from state to state. It's important to consult with a knowledgeable person when setting up a directive. It's also helpful to tell family members and healthcare providers about the document and its location. A copy of the document may be given to providers and selected family members.

    Author: James Broomfield, MD
    Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 09/24/01

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