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Advance Directives

Your Right to Make Health Care Decisions in New Jersey

This information explains your rights to make decisions about your health care under New Jersey law. It also tells you how to plan ahead for your health care if you become unable to make decisions for yourself because of an illness or accident. It contains a general statement of your rights and some common questions and answers.

Your Basic Rights
You have the right to receive a clear explanation from your doctor of your complete medical condition, expected results and medical alternatives. You have the right to accept or refuse any procedure or treatment used to diagnose or treat your physical or mental condition, including life-sustaining equipment. You also have the right to control decisions about your healthcare in the event you become unable to make your own decisions in the future by completing an Advance Directive.

What Happens if I’m Unable to Decide About My Health Care?
If you become unable to make treatment decisions, due to an illness or an accident, those caring for you will need to know about your values and wishes in making decisions on your behalf. That’s why it’s important to write an Advance Directive.

What is an Advance Directive?
An Advance Directive is a document that allows you to direct who will make health care decisions for you and to state your wishes for medical treatment if you become unable to decide for yourself in the future. Your Advance Directive may be used to accept or refuse any procedure or treatment, including life-sustaining treatment.

What Types of Advance Directives Can You Use?
There are three kinds of Advance Directives that you can use to say what you want and who you want your doctors to listen to:

  • Proxy Directive (also called “durable power of attorney for healthcare”) – lets you name a “healthcare representative,” such as a family member or friend, to make healthcare decisions on your behalf.

  • Instructive Directive (also called a “living will”) – lets you state what kind of medical treatments you would accept or reject in certain situations.

  •  Combined Directive – lets you do both. It lets you name a healthcare representative and tells that person your treatment wishes.

Who Can Fill Out These Forms?
You can fill out an Advance Directive in New Jersey if you are 18 years or older and you are able to make your own decisions. You do not need a lawyer to fill it out.

Who Should I Talk to About Advance Directives?
You should talk to your doctor about it and give a copy to him or her. You should also give a copy to your health care representative, family member(s), or others close to you. Bring a copy with you when you receive care from a hospital, nursing home, or other health care agency. Your Advance Directive becomes part of your medical records.

What if I Don’t Have an Advance Directive?
If you become unable to make treatment decisions and you do not have an Advance Directive, your close family members will talk to your doctor and in most cases, will make decisions on your behalf. (However, if your family members, doctor, or other caregivers disagree about your medical care, it may be necessary for a court to appoint someone as your legal decision maker on your behalf). That’s why it’s important to put your wishes in writing to make it clear who would decide for you and to help your family and doctor know what you want.

Will My Advance Directive be Followed?
Yes. Everyone responsible for your care must respect the wishes you have stated in your Advance Directive. However, if your doctor, nurse, or other professional has a sincere objection to respecting your wishes to refuse life-sustaining treatment, he or she may have your care transferred to another professional who will carry them out.

What if I Change My Mind?
You can change or revoke any of these documents at a later time.

Will I Still be Treated if I Don’t Fill Out an Advance Directive?
Yes. You don’t have to fill out any forms if you don’t want to and you will still get medical treatment. Your insurance company also cannot deny coverage based on whether or not you have an Advance Directive.

What Other Information and Resources are Available?
Your doctor or a member of our staff can provide you with more information about our policies on Advance Directives. You also may ask for written information, materials and help. If there is a question or disagreement about your health care wishes, we have an Ethics Committee or other individuals who can help.

How We Can Help?
It is impossible to predict all the critical decision-making situations which can arise in a hospital setting. The important thing is to know what resources are available, and how to approach the decision-making process.

Source: New Jersey Department of Health