The Patient Self-Determination Act (PSDA) is a federal law, and compliance is mandatory. It is the purpose of this act to ensure that a patient's right to self-determination in health care decisions be communicated and protected. Through advance directives--the living will and the durable power of attorney--the right to accept or reject medical or surgical treatment is available to adults while competent, so that in the event that such adults become incompetent to make decisions, they would more easily continue to control decisions affecting their health care. Without advance directives and the proper adherence to such directives, former President Richard Nixon and former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis might still be alive today, in persistent vegetative states. This article examines the history of the act, its importance to each individual, the clinical, ethical and legal issues, and the role of health care professionals in effectively implementing and ensuring compliance of the PSDA.