The evolution of health care advance planning law and policy

Milbank Q. 2010 Jun;88(2):211-39. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0009.2010.00596.x.


Context: The legal tools of health care advance planning have substantially changed since their emergence in the mid-1970s. Thirty years of policy development, primarily at the state legislative level addressing surrogate decision making and advance directives, have resulted in a disjointed policy landscape, yet with important points of convergence evolving over time. An understanding of the evolution of advance care planning policy has important implications for policy at both the state and federal levels.

Methods: This article is a longitudinal statutory and literature review of health care advance planning from its origins to the present.

Findings: While considerable variability across the states still remains, changes in law and policy over time suggest a gradual paradigm shift from what is described as a "legal transactional approach" to a "communications approach," the most recent extension of which is the emergence of Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, or POLST. The communications approach helps translate patients' goals into visible and portable medical orders.

Conclusions: States are likely to continue gradually moving away from a legal transactional mode of advance planning toward a communications model, albeit with challenges to authentic and reliable communication that accurately translates patients' wishes into the care they receive. In the meantime, the states and their health care institutions will continue to serve as the primary laboratory for advance care planning policy and practice.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Advance Care Planning / history*
  • Advance Care Planning / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Advance Care Planning / organization & administration
  • Advance Directives / history
  • Advance Directives / legislation & jurisprudence
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Living Wills / history
  • Living Wills / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Policy Making
  • Resuscitation Orders / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Terminal Care / history
  • Terminal Care / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United States