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What is a health care directive and how do you make one?

Communication is an important tool for St. Paul residents, particularly when it comes to communicating their desires on very personal issues. Health care matters are one of the most important personal issues where it is essential to have solid lines of communication open between patients and their doctors, as well as between patients and their families. While most individuals find it important to have input on their own health care decisions, they may not realize that they have foregone making these decisions if they do not have a health care directive in place.

A health care directive is a tool that allows individuals to communicate their health care wishes to others in the event they lose the capacity to do so themselves. Individuals can name an agent to decide these matters for them, and they can spell out their wishes in writing.

In order to execute a health care directive, individuals must put something in writing that states the individual's name and is dated. The individual must also sign the document and have their signature witnessed by a notary public or two witnesses. Finally, individuals should appoint an agent to carry out instructions about their health care choices.

While the health care choices included in a health care directive can be wide ranging, there are some limits under Minnesota law as to what can be included. Namely, individuals cannot typically request a type of health care treatment if it is not within standards of reasonable medical practice, nor can they request to have an assisted suicide take place under current law. Ultimately, it is important that individuals meet the legal requirements in executing the document and understand how to go about expressing their wishes on these sensitive matters.

Source: Minnesota Department of Health, "Questions and answers about health care directives," accessed on Nov. 1, 2014

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