Healthcare Directives Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Healthcare Directives, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Healthcare Directives?

Legal document expressing someone’s wishes regarding their medical care and who will ensure that the wishes are carried out. Also referred to as a living will.

History and Definition of Healthcare Directives

Healthcare directives, also known as living wills, have existed for centuries, but it wasn't until the 1970s that they began to gain widespread acceptance in the United States. The passage of the Patient Self-Determination Act in 1990 gave them legal force in all 50 states. A healthcare directive is a legal document that describes a person's wishes regarding their medical care in the event that they become incapacitated and are no longer able to make decisions for themselves. It is designed to guide doctors and loved ones in making healthcare decisions on behalf of the individual, ensuring their wishes are carried out.

Examples of Healthcare Directives

  1. Susan creates a living will that specifies she does not want to be kept alive by artificial means if she becomes terminally ill or permanently unconscious.
  2. John appoints his brother to act as his healthcare agent to make medical decisions on his behalf if he is unable to do so.
  3. Mary completes a healthcare directive that designates her daughter as her power of attorney for healthcare, giving her daughter the authority to make medical decisions on her behalf if she is unable to do so.

Related Terms

  1. Power of Attorney: Legal document granting someone the authority to act on another's behalf, such as making medical or financial decisions.
  2. Advance Directive: A legal document that specifies a person's medical treatment preferences and choice of healthcare agent in the event of incapacity.
  3. DNR Order: "Do Not Resuscitate" order that specifies the patient's wish to not be resuscitated in the event of cardiac or respiratory arrest.