Do You Need a Medical Power of Attorney?
A Medical Power of Attorney is one of the most common documents discussed when planning for future health care needs. But how do you know if you actually need one? Does everyone need one? The answer lies in considering how strongly you feel about certain healthcare decisions.
A Medical Power of Attorney allows you to identify a person that you want to make healthcare decisions if you can no longer communicate. So, it doesn’t even come into play unless you are so sick or injured that you cannot communicate at all. If you can still blink your eyes or squeeze someone’s hand, then you get to continue making your health care decisions yourself.
But if you are unable to communicate, who would you want to make those decisions? THAT is the person you should name as your Medical Power of Attorney. But you do not have to have a Medical Power of Attorney, it is not a requirement. So, to help you decide, here are some scenarios in which you might need a Medical Power of Attorney:
- You feel very strongly about medical treatments that you do not want, such as artificial hydration or nutrition (tube feeding).
- You have never talked to your family members about what you do or don’t want.
- You have a spouse or child who feels differently than you do about life support.
- You have an even number of children, and they have never all agreed on anything, ever!
What happens if you don’t complete a Medical Power of Attorney?
If you are unable to communicate, then that probably means you are being treated in an emergency room, and so the emergency room personnel will try to locate a family member. If you have your phone, they may look through your contacts to try to discern family members. They may look through your wallet, looking for IDs and emergency contact information. Depending on how quickly decisions must be made, they will try to contact anyone they think is a relative, and ask that person if they know what your wishes are. If they don’t have enough time, they will use every available measure to keep you alive until they can find someone in your family (which may include life support). Next, emergency room personnel will try to find your next of kin: a spouse if you are married, a brother or sister, or an adult child if you have one. Once a family member has been found, they will ask that person to make decisions about your treatment.
So, it depends on how strongly you feel about life support, and how much you trust the judgment of members of your family. But as we get older, often our medical problems become more apparent, and it may be within reason to be able to predict certain medical scenarios and plan accordingly. It’s not much fun to think about, and your family will likely balk at the topic, so you may have to push through some discomfort to have the conversation. But if you feel strongly about it, it is probably worth it.
If I have a Medical Power or Attorney do I need a Living Will?
A Living Will is a document in which you can specify what life sustaining treatments you do and don’t want. If you have a Living Will that spells out your wishes, then that spares your family from having to make any decisions – you have already decided. So, for some people, the Living Will is more important than the Medical Power of Attorney. Situations in which a Living Will might come into play:
- You have family members who you already know feel differently about ‘life support’ than you do.
- Your family members disagree about ‘life support’.
- You have religious or moral objections to certain types of treatment that your family members may disagree with or not be aware of.
It’s important to know that any type of medical directive can be revoked at any time. If you’ve completed a document and now changed your mind, you can simply tear up the old one or you can complete a new one. If you still have questions about these issues, post it for your Healthcare Coach, and they can guide you in that discussion.
By Julie Coats, LBSW, CCM