Planning for Your Medical Decisions – Family, Friends Need to Know Now
Last week you cut out the article about important documents and have since made some headway pulling it together.
Good for you. Now you need to take the next step and communicate your decisions regarding your health and your [inevitable – sorry to break it to you this way] death. First, you need to make some choices on how you want to approach your last days on earth. Then you need to choose who will implement those choices.
There are two documents that are primarily in play: your Medical Power of Attorney and your Directive to Physicians. The POA designates who will make your medical decisions if you are mentally incapacitated. The Directive gives instructions regarding whether to withhold life-sustaining measures if you have been diagnosed with either a terminal condition that will lead to your death in 6 months or with an irreversible condition. In these documents, you are the “principal” and the person who carries out your wishes is your “agent.”
The challenge is that you are usually signing these documents in the comfort of your attorney’s conference room with no idea of how your decisions will play out. You are weighing horror stories about people being kept alive by machines against a very natural wish for a miracle outcome. Your religious convictions and personal experiences should weigh heavily on your choices.
If you are wavering, then remember that neither document takes effect if you have capacity and can communicate your own decision. And you can verbally terminate both documents.
In choosing your medical agent, think carefully. If you decide that you want to forego artificial life-sustaining treatment, then you may not want to choose an agent who is too empathetic and caring. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that a child or friend who is really close to a patient is often too optimistic and will disregard a patient’s written choice to terminate treatment.
You will need to talk to your agent before there is a crisis. Your agent will need to know your medical conditions, your doctors, your preferred hospital, your medications (or where you keep the list), your insurance and your Medicare number. You should give your agent a copy of your Medical POA and Directive. Your agent, in turn, will need to convince you that he or she has the fortitude to carry out your decisions.
And now an aside to your medical agent. There is no elegant or gentle way to say this: you have to respect the principal’s wishes and set aside your own emotions and belief system. If the principal’s wish is to die peacefully, then you must be able to say no to feeding tubes, artificial hydration and last-ditch efforts. If your principal wishes to extend life, then you must find resources to do that. You may need to be an aggressive advocate, prepared to battle doctors, hospitals, family and friends. If you cannot, then you owe it to your principal to disclose that now.
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The information contained in this article is general information only and does not constitute legal advice.