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ABSTRACT Spain is one of the most advanced European countries in terms of the legislative and administrative development of ADs. Article 11 of Law 41/2002, concerning Patient Autonomy, regulates ‘advance directives’ and has prompted various Autonomous Regions to develop legislation in this area. Nevertheless, whilst the variety of legislations in different territories presents advantages, the disparity of criteria also presents problems. Despite significant legislative development, only 23,000 Spanish citizens have filled in an AD. Clearly, AD use is confined to a minority. Several surveys, however, show that the Spanish population views these documents in a positive light. Thus, we must analyse this discrepancy between attitude and practice. A similar situation exists amongst health professionals. Whilst they generally feel that the use of ADs is positive and necessary, they are frequently unwilling to employ them. Bioethical literature and research on ADs has significantly increased in Spain over the last six years. It is likely that this trend will continue in the foreseeable future; but more resources and effort are required if ADs are to become consolidated.