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
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.