Imagine the elderly woman who suffers an accident and wanted her niece to be her surrogate decision-maker. Unfortunately, she did not fill out a health care directive prior to losing decision-making capacity. Before the passage of House Bill 1175, she would have had to endure a lengthy, painstaking guardianship process to have the person she trusts be her health care decision-maker. Now that HB 1175 has expanded surrogate decision-making options for patients who lack capacity, this woman – and countless other patients like her across the state – can rest easy knowing that her health care choices will be honored.
We at WSHA collaborated with a variety of partners – including the Washington State Medical Association, Honoring Choices Pacific Northwest and the bill’s legislative sponsors – to advocate in support of this bill during the legislative session.
The newly enacted law has two elements that will help you – our members – ensure that patients’ health care decisions are known and recognized. First, the law expands the type of people who can be a surrogate health care decision-maker to include extended family members and close friends. Second, the law allows a notary to finalize a health care directive (commonly known as an advance directive for health care or a living will). Previously, two witnesses were required to finalize a health care directive, which presented a barrier for some patients wishing to complete this form. Before passage, only a few types of family members could make medical decisions for a patient who lacked capacity and hadn’t previously named a health care agent. If a patient didn’t have a spouse, child, parent or sibling available to be their surrogate decision-maker, the only option was to wait in a hospital or other care setting for a court to appoint a guardian.
Preventing situations where patients are inappropriately and avoidably waiting in a hospital or other care setting is a priority for everyone at WSHA. We know that our members are committed to providing the best possible care for their patients. We will continue advocating at the state and federal levels for policies that increase access to health care to ensure that Washington patients have access to the highest possible quality of care and resources.
In the meantime, I invite you to join us in expressing our gratitude to legislative sponsors of the bill for supporting health care access and patient autonomy. We’ve set up a thank you form that will help you send a message to legislators. Please send a thank you by clicking that link!
The law will go into effect on July 28, 2019. The Washington State Medical Association and Honoring Choices Pacific Northwest will release updated health care directive forms available at www.wsma.org/advance-directives and www.honoringchoicespnw.org/plan/write-it-down/.