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The Keystone Times Fall 2008
New PA law on living wills and health care powers
Contributed by Mike Cherewka, Esq, Keystone Partnership Board Member
When supporting individuals with disabilities, Keystone is often confronted with a tangled web of legalities involving health care decisions and end-of-life determinations.
Thankfully, Pennsylvania has finally enacted laws making provisions for adults to direct their health care decision-making through health care powers of attorney. The changes were very long in the making, and while a welcome road map for families and health care providers, they also underscore the need to think about and plan for health care decisions.
While Pennsylvania previously provided for living wills, there has been no comprehensive health care decision-making framework and there was often confusion among families and health care providers as to who had proper authority to make health care decisions for terminally ill or incapacitated patients.
The new law explicitly authorizes “advanced health care directives” which are defined as health care powers of attorney, living wills or combinations of both. It also includes the new term “end stage medical condition” which is the new trigger for determining whether life sustaining treatments will be withdrawn or withheld, which can now be set forth in the medical power of attorney and/or the living will. Finally, the law sets forth the powers of agents and representatives, and clarifies the legal protections of agents, representatives and health care providers who follow the terms of such documents.
Living wills and health care powers of attorney executed prior to the new law are still valid; therefore you need not create new documents immediately. However, there may be good reason to execute new documents to take advantage of the new form of directive or to account for other changes in the law.