Advance Directives law was Consolidated, Improved

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 were passed, including 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.”

The 1999 Advance Directives Act was put into the Governor’s hands, and he determined that this Act provided adequate safeguards and contained many overdue legal refinements.

The Act gathered 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 fixed 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 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, or would allow you to sign before a Notary.

* The outdated laws were inconsistent in their approaches to coordination with other states’ laws.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. The old Texas law refused to honor your home-state Directive to Physicians but gave full legal effect to your home-state Medical Power of Attorney. The 1999 Act fixed 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. Look for other columns that discuss “Advance Directives” or “Medical Power of Attorney” or “Directive to Physicians” for more details on each of those documents.

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