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Advance Directives

In Pennsylvania, competent adults have the right to decide whether to accept, reject or discontinue medical care and treatment. If you do not wish to undergo a certain procedure or to receive a certain type of treatment, you have the right to make your wishes known to your doctor or other health care provider and generally to have those wishes respected.

There may be times, however, when a person cannot make his or her wishes known to a health care provider. For example, a person may be unconscious or too badly injured to tell his or her doctor what kind of care or treatment he or she would like to receive or under what circumstances that doctor should withhold care or treatment. In these cases, legal documents such as advance directives play critical roles in making sure your wishes will be followed.

An advance directive may take many forms. In Pennsylvania, two types are specifically authorized: (1) a living will, also known as an advance directive for health care and (2) a durable power of attorney for health care.

The purpose of this information is to let you know what the law currently has to say about your rights, as a competent adult, to make your wishes known regarding whether or not you want to receive types of care and treatment. This information explains your options on how to tell people ahead of time how you would like to receive medical care and treatment from a health care provider in the event that you need medical attention but become physically or mentally unable to give instructions about your care and treatment later on. It also tells you what Pennsylvania law has to say about the duty of a health care provider to follow your advance instructions.

To make these complex issues easier to understand, they are addressed through a series of questions and answers. Before you make any decisions about the issues addressed in this information, you may wish to discuss them with your doctor, members of your family, close friends, and where appropriate, your lawyer.

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