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San Antonio Express-News, 06/04/1999

New Advance Medical Directives Act

© 1989-2004, Paul Premack

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The 76th Legislature closed its regular session on May 31, 1999. It considered hundreds of proposals, and voted to make many of them into law. Several important bills affecting Seniors are in line to become law. One of them is called the "Advance Directives Act."

Governor Bush vetoed a similar bill that was passed by the 75th Legislature in 1997. According to the Governor’s office, he vetoed the 1997 bill because it contained "several provisions that would permit a physician to deny life-sustaining procedures to a patient who desires them."

Now, the 1999 Advance Directives Act is in the Governor’s hands. This Act provides adequate safeguards, and contains many overdue legal refinements. Texas law needs this Act’s improvements.

The Act gathers together three existing laws – the Natural Death Act, originally passed in 1977, the Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) law, originally passed in 1993 and the Health Care Power of Attorney Act, originally passed in 1989. Because these laws were passed in different years and in response to different needs, they were poorly coordinated. The 1999 Act fixes this by giving each law a uniform set of definitions and conditions to follow.

Each of the existing laws is improved in the 1999 Act. For instance:

* The 1977 Natural Death Act allowed you to sign a "Directive to Physicians" declaring that you decline artificial life support if your medical condition ever becomes both irreversible and terminal. The 1999 Act expands on this approach, allowing you the option to refuse life-sustaining care if your physician diagnoses a terminal condition that will cause your death within 6 months.

* The 1989 Health Care Power of Attorney Act required that a document be signed twice by its maker. The 1999 Act would ask for only one signature – a major simplification for any ill Senior for whom signing twice was a struggle.

* The 1993 Do Not Resuscitate law has very exacting documentary requirements. For instance, the original signed DNR must be present under most circumstances. The 1999 Act would allow a photocopy of the document to suffice.

* All of the existing laws require that two witnesses sign each document. The laws impose varying conditions on who can act as a witness. The 1999 Act would standardize the witnessing requirements for all of the Advance Directives, making it simpler to comply with the law. [Note: a law change in 2009 allows Medical Powers of Attorney and Directives to Physicians to be signed and notarized OR to be signed and witnessed. Either way is now legally valid.]

* The existing laws are inconsistent in their approach to coordination with other states’ laws. If you are a snowbird living in Texas 4 months a year, you probably have Advance Directives drawn in your home state. Current Texas law refuses to honor your home-state Directive to Physicians but gives full legal effect to your home-state Medical Power of Attorney. The 1999 Act fixes this by granting full reciprocity to all Advance Directives made in other states (so long as they are legal in the state where they were signed.)

The 1999 Advance Directives Act is a meaningful step forward for Texas law. The Governor can sign it into law, or if he takes no action, the Act will become law automatically. If you would like to voice your opinion to his office, phone 800-252-9600.

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Disclaimer: This column answers a specific legal question offered by an individual in the South Texas area. The answer may or may not match your individual situation. Be careful not to treat this column as specific legal advice that meets your individual needs. It may give you a solid basis for discussion with your own attorney. Also, please be aware that laws change. You should consult with your personal attorney before you take any action on this or any legal issue.

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