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Health Care Agents - Appointing One and Being One

What do I need to know to make decisions? continued...

If you need information from the doctor, ask for an appointment to meet and come prepared with specific questions. Write your questions down so that you do not forget any of them and you can make good use of the time. You can get information and other support from nurses, social workers, patient representatives, members of the ethics committee, and chaplains.

Medical decision-making is a process. You can make provisional decisions and change them later. For example, you can authorize a trial of treatment, and later, if the treatment is not having the intended benefit, direct that it be stopped. It is perfectly ethical and legal to stop a treatment that has been started if the treatment is of little or no benefit or is unwanted.

However, in practice, withdrawing a treatment can be psychologically more difficult for the caregivers and the agent. It can feel as if stopping the treatment causes the patient's death. In fact, the treatment may only prolong the dying process, rather than prevent the patient's eventual death or improve the patient's condition. In such a situation it can help to remember that the disease is the real cause of the patient's death, not stopping or withholding treatment. Sometimes withholding or withdrawing treatment does not result in the patient's immediate death, but may make the patient's dying more comfortable.

Take the time you need to get the information that you feel is necessary to make a thoughtful decision. There may be no "right" decision. You can only make the best decision that you can under the circumstances.

WebMD Medical Reference from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

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