While it is difficult to contemplate being unable to make one’s own health care decisions, the possibility of this happening as we age or face a medical emergency raises important questions. If you are temporarily incapacitated and unable to make or communicate to others decisions about your health care, how can you ensure that someone you trust can step in and make decisions on your behalf? Similarly, how can you protect your right to decline unwanted medical treatment if you are unable to make health care decisions and have a terminal, end stage medical condition? Having an advanced health care directive, which includes a health care power of attorney and a living will, goes a long way towards addressing these questions and ensuring that your health care wishes will be followed.
Health Care Power of Attorney
Under a durable health care power of attorney, you appoint an agent – usually a close family member or a friend — to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to yourself. In the health care power of attorney, you can specify which medical decision-making powers you want your agent to have. In the event your health care agent has to act on your behalf, he or she must act in your best interest and is supposed to make decisions based on understanding your health care wishes. It is important to talk with your health care agent about your treatment preferences so that he/she knows what they are, and for those preferences to be included in your advanced health care directive documents.
In a living will, you instruct your health care agent and health care providers what life sustaining treatments you wish to initiate, continue, withhold or withdraw, in the event you have an end-stage medical condition. A living will only becomes effective when your attending physician has a copy and determines you (1) are unable to understand, make or communicate health care decisions for yourself; and (2) have either an end stage medical condition or are permanently unconscious. Through a living will, you can select which life prolonging procedures you want to decline and provide other specific directions about end of life care, thus making it more likely that your wishes for end of life care will be honored.
If you have questions about advanced health care directives, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or my office through my website at www.brkoganlaw.com.