An all too common scenario may look something like this:
A woman at the end stage of cancer suffered a stroke. Her brother, the only surviving relative, is overseas and can’t be reached. She did not have any health care directives to describe her healthcare wishes and designate someone who can make decisions for her. Important and difficult decisions regarding her care, such as life-sustaining treatment, were left to the doctors and nurses who don’t know her or even met her before.
In these difficult moments, a proper health care directive would have helped the doctors and any loved ones in making the medical decisions necessary to care for her.
An advanced health care directive is a document that explains the healthcare you desire in case of a serious injury or illness or incapacity. It can clarify such issues as whether you want to be resuscitated if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious or whether you want home hospice care instead of care at the hospital. It’s not only for the end-of-life care, but the document may be most helpful if you were temporarily incapacitated and there’s a chance for recovery.
At a minimum, you can name an agent (usually your spouse is the initial agent) who will speak and provide consent for medical decisions, and/or releases with hospitals and doctors on your behalf.
Once you determine who your trusted agent is, talk to him or her about how you want your care to go. That way, it’s clear and your loved ones aren’t left arguing with one another about your care. It may be hard to get the conversation going, but once you get them started, it can be a relief and empowering.
Choosing your health care power of attorney can be a difficult and emotional task. It’s crucial that you have a health care power of attorney because when you need medical attention, the doctors are required to get your permission before beginning any treatment. This could be impossible if you are incapacitated.
Here are some considerations to think about and open the lines of communication with your family about this very important decision.
1. Who do you trust with your life?
2. Who can be easily reached when needed?
3. Who will follow your wishes?
4. What would your family say about this person? Will they agree or will this decision have potential conflicts?
5. Do you want to appoint multiple people or just one person to act on your behalf? If you plan to appoint multiple people to act jointly, make sure that they are in agreement to avoid any conflict. You might want to appoint 3 for a majority vote or to require a unanimous decision.
6. Make the hard decisions yourself. Family members may be more willing to act as your health care agent if you can ease their decision-making burden by already indicating your end-of-life decisions in a living will.
About the Author
Christine Chung, Esq.