Advanced Directives for Health Care Options 

An advanced directive often referred to as a “living will” or “health care power of attorney,” is a legal document providing guidance to medical professionals regarding the type of treatment one will allow in the event of a medical emergency when they may be unable to communicate their wishes.   

Advanced directives also allow individuals to direct someone else to make medical decisions for them if they cannot speak for themselves. This person is the “surrogate.” Having an advanced directive can be helpful to have for all adults, regardless of age. 

In California, another common type of advanced directive is a Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form. Individuals can request this medical document from their doctor which states their preferences to emergency medical workers (such as paramedics) in the event of a medical emergency. 

The POLST form lists the individual’s preferences about cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), using intravenous therapy (IVs), a ventilator, and artificial nutrition given via a tube. Filling out a POLST form is voluntary, but if the form has been completed, medical providers are legally required to abide by the requests. The POLST could be considered by individuals with a serious illness or advanced frailty near the end-of-life ahead of time. 

Advanced directives and POLST forms are different and not the same. The advanced directive is a legal document, and the POLST is a medical document. However, these documents work together to make an individual’s wishes known when they cannot communicate for themself.  

To learn more POLST forms, speak with your doctor. To learn more about advanced directives, speak with Community Resource Specialist to locate legal services at (408) 350-3200, option 1.  

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