BAKERSFIELD, CA - Recent incidents at Glenwood Gardens have brought up questions about the legalities of advanced directives, the forms a patient fills out describing the medical care they want if something happens.
Do family members or doctors have the right to overrule a patients request? A local lawyer says there are some exceptions.
When moments matter, what a doctor does to save someone's life can depend on decisions the patient made before the emergency, in an advanced directive.
"The law is very clear. The person who is writing the advanced directive has the ultimate say so," said attorney David Stiles.
Stiles says advanced directives are documents like a living will or 'do not resuscitate' form. They make it clear to medical staff and family the end of life care a patient wants, things like dialysis and breathing machines, tube feeding, resuscitation, or no care at all.
"Normally, upon admission at an acute care facility like a hospital or a nursing home, they will be asked to specify in writing and sign what they wish as far as an advanced directive in an event," said Stiles.
The patient who filled out the document holds all of the power of care, unless the patient is unable to communicate. Then, the decision to resuscitate goes to the person named on the form as an agent who has power of attorney, regardless what the document says. They can order life saving measures to start or stop.
"The doctor is not the decision maker if there is a valid advanced directive and there's an agent that's been designated and is available to make that decision. There have been cases involving facilities that have failed to follow advanced directives. In other words, it would not be inconceivable that a lawsuit would be filed for failure to follow a 'do not resuscitate' order. I'm not aware of any case like that right now in Kern County, but it's certainly possible," said Stiles.
Stiles says the best thing to do is be prepared and make everyone, family and the care facility, aware of what your advanced directive says.