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Special Article
July 26, 2004

Resuscitating Advance Directives

Author Affiliations

From the Program in Medical Ethics and the Division of General Internal Medicine, the University of California, San Francisco (Dr Lo), and New England Journal of Medicine (Dr Steinbrook). The authors have no relevant financial interest in this article.

Arch Intern Med. 2004;164(14):1501-1506. doi:10.1001/archinte.164.14.1501

Advance directives have not fulfilled their promise of facilitating decisions about end-of-life care for incompetent patients. Many legal requirements and restrictions concerning advance directives are counterproductive. Requirements for witnessing or notarizing advance directives make it difficult for patients to complete a written directive during a physician visit. State laws that establish a hierarchy of family surrogates for incompetent patients who have not appointed a proxy are inflexible and may not apply to common clinical situations. Advance directives would be more useful if they emphasized discussing end-of-life care with physicians rather than completing a legal document. State laws should be revised to encourage patients to discuss advance directives with physicians and to complete them during an office visit. Such patient-physician discussions about end-of-life care can lead to more informed patient decisions. Procedures for written advance directives should be simplified. Patients should be able to designate health care proxies through oral statements to physicians. These reforms will encourage discussions between patients and physicians about advance directives and may lead to more informed decisions near the end of life.