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For many people, the Advance Health Care Directive is the most important document they will ever sign.  This document allows you to appoint someone you trust to make medical decisions for you should you ever be unable to make them for yourself.  To fully understand it’s importance, consider the following question and answer:

After a car accident, if I am in a hospital, unconscious, and need medical treatment, who decides what treatment is performed on me?

A)  No one.  No medical treatment can be given without my consent and since I am not conscious, I cannot consent.

B)  My doctor chooses for me.

C)  My spouse can make medical decisions on my behalf.

D)  My parents can make medical decisions on my behalf.

Please select what you feel is the best answer.

For this question, assume that no advance health care directive is in place and no health care agents, conservators, or surrogates have been nominated.  (Don’t know what these terms mean?  Feel free to call our California licensed attorney at 951-972-7508).

The Answer:

The best answer is (C).  In 1972, in a case called Cobbs v. Grant, the California Supreme Court accepted the concept of identifying a patient’s “closest available relative” as the person to make medical decisions on behalf of someone who has no written advance health care directive, is not under a conservatorship of the person, and is incompetent.

Unfortunately, who qualifies as the “closest available relative” is unclear.  Unlike other states, California has no default hierarchy of decision-makers in such situations.  If the patient is married, often the spouse is consulted first, but disagreements between spouses and parents in this situation have given rise to long and bitter litigation.

To avoid future fights, it is best to nominate a health care agent through an Advance Health Care Directive.

Nominating a health care agent can also result in you receiving better medical care.  Take a moment and consider, is your spouse the best person to advocate for your health?

Surprisingly, for many the answer is no. Some spouses are shy, uncomfortable around doctors, or simply inexperienced when it comes to medical decisions.  Other spouses are quick to lose their temper or have had so much medical experience that they’ve developed an unhealthy distrust for the medical community.

Even for those who do trust their spouse with their life, an Advance Health Care Directive is crucial.  Your spouse may be injured at the same time as you and unable to help you in your time of need.  If so, you’ll be glad to have selected alternate health care agents to take care of you.

Either way, an Advance Health Care Directive is incredibly important.  If you have additional questions, seek the advice of a knowledgeable attorney.