September 8, 2011

Power of Attorney Basics
For Families and Caregivers

The role of a ‘medical power of attorney’ is different than that of a ‘power of attorney’ for legal and business matters. See how each is different and the important role a medical power of attorney has:

What is a Power of Attorney?    

A power of attorney is an authorization to act on someone else's behalf in a legal or business matter. The individual who authorizes another person to act is the principal or grantor. The individual who is authorized to act is the agent. The term ‘durable power of attorney’ means that the power of attorney remains in affect in the event that the principle becomes incapacitated or dies.

What is a Medical Power of Attorney?

Also known as Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care or as Health Care Agent, this authorization is made by an individual to allow someone to make decisions about healthcare on their behalf should the authorizing party become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make decisions regarding medical treatment.

Benefits of having a Medical Power of Attorney

•The agent knows you well and understands your desired medical treatments.
•As your condition changes, the agent can discuss options for treatment with physicians and has the power to either authorize or withdraw them.
•The agent can actively advocate on your behalf throughout your period of incompetence.
•If you have prepared a living will, your agent has that as a guide for your preferred treatment and can encourage healthcare providers to follow those guidelines.

Choosing the right person to be your Medical Power of Attorney

The person chosen to be a Medical Power of Attorney should be a trusted family member or friend who knows you well and is willing to take on the responsibility should the need arise.

When selecting someone for this position, consider the following:

•Select someone who you trust completely and who understands your decisions for medical care. Suggestions for discussion are below.
•Acting as a Medical Power of Attorney is a significant responsibility. Be sure that the person you ask is willing to be an effective agent for you, will ask questions of healthcare professionals, and will gather information needed to make decisions.
•Ultimately, the person you select will be making decisions based on your living will and your discussions with them. Be sure they have full understanding of your wishes.

Talking with your Medical Power of Attorney about your end-of-life wishes

Your Medical Power of Attorney should be aware of your values, quality-of-life beliefs, and how you feel about identified medical treatments and situations.

Discussion questions to help you clarify your wishes with yourself and your Medical Power of Attorney:

•What medical treatments would you refuse or accept at the point you become incapacitated and why?
•What are you afraid might occur if you can’t make decisions for yourself?
•What are your family member’s beliefs in relation to your own beliefs about what should happen?
•What are your views about artificial nutrition (food) and hydration (fluid)?
•Under what conditions is it acceptable and not acceptable by you for hospital staff to perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) to restart your heart?
•What are your feelings about receiving treatments such as mechanical ventilation, antibiotics or a feeding tube? What situations does it make sense for you to receive these treatments?
•If your condition doesn’t improve, would you want them discontinued after a time? What does that mean specifically?