The Health Care Directives and Substitute Health Care Decision Makers Act is legislation empowering individuals to provide written directions to health care providers regarding the types of medical treatment they wish or do not wish to receive.   The Act also permits the appointment of a proxy (agent) to make health care decisions in the absence of your specific written instructions for future health care treatment.

Is a Health Care Directive/Proxy really necessary?
More and more individuals desire to take charge of their future health care even though it is unknown. It is important for your family and loved ones to know what your wishes are in case of a terminal illness or life-threatening accident. For example, you may wish to state that no extraordinary means be taken to sustain life when there is no hope of recovery.  A health care directive assists in reducing the stress, anxiety, and sense of loss experienced by your loved ones during a medical crisis.

When should I make a Health Care Directive?
A health care directive can be made any time provided the person is 16 years of age and mentally competent.  The more likely time to consider a directive is at the time you are making your Will or making a change to your Will.  A directive is as important as a Will and could have long-term implications for you and your loved ones.

I don't know the future...
How can I give adequate instructions for my future care? 
First of all, it is satisfactory to appoint a proxy, without specific treatment instruction, so that someone has the legal authority to deal with an accident or rapid deterioration in your health. In such circumstances, you may not have the mental capacity to provide instructions to your health care providers. You should have someone in place who can act on your behalf if it is ever required.

Secondly, if you are confronted with a serious illness, you can, and should, discuss with your doctor the progression of your illness and the treatments available to you.  Your health care directive can be amended to deal specifically with the situation at hand regarding your consent or refusal of consent for specific treatments or therapies.  You remain in control of your health care treatment.   If circumstances arise which have not been anticipated and are not dealt with through your health care providers, your named proxy will be consulted on your behalf.

What happens if I don't make a Health Care Directive or appoint a Proxy?
If you are not able to give direction to your health care providers and your health deteriorates the Act allows the following individuals, in the order listed, to make health care decisions on your behalf: your spouse, nearest blood relative, a health care provider. 

Are safeguards in place to prevent a proxy from abusing their power?
As long as you are competent, you are in total control.  Your proxy, spouse, or relative only have authority to make decisions if you are unable to do so.  Therefore, it is important that you exercise you legal right to appoint a proxy in whom you have absolute trust and confidence.  Any treatment being administered or refused must be in accordance with acceptable medical ethics.  It is highly improbable that any health care provider would consent to any treatment or non-treatment outside of the normal range of acceptable medical treatment for someone in your health circumstance.

Points to Ponder:

  • A health care directive takes effect when the person making the directive does not have the capacity to make a health care decision respecting a proposed treatment/non-treatment.

  • A directive remains in effect until the person making the directive recovers his/her mental capacity or revokes the directive.

  • A directive may be revoked any time, either orally or in writing, by destroying the directive, or by making a new directive.

  • Unless a directive states to the contrary, an appointment of a spouse as a proxy is revoked if the marriage is terminated by divorce.

  • A directive made outside of Saskatchewan that complies with the requirements of Saskatchewan law is valid in Saskatchewan.

  • A directive made prior to September 1, 1997, is valid provided it complies with the requirements of the Health Care Directives and Substitute Health Care Decision Makers Act.  A lawyer should review any pre-September 1997 directive to confirm its validity.

If you have any question or concerns, please contact one of our knowledgeable lawyers.