When a Health Care Agent Is Needed
Someone will have
to make medical decisions for you if you become unable to communicate or lose
decision-making abilities. By selecting a
health care agent in advance, you grant the person you
want to make these decisions the legal right to do so. This helps avoid
uncertainty, conflict, and stress for your loved ones during a time that is
likely to already be difficult for them. Also, it ensures that you will have an
advocate to help others understand your preferences. The legal form that states
your choice of a health care agent is usually called a medical power of
attorney or a durable power of attorney for health care. But it may be called
by other names in some states.
Ideally, you will also create a
living will that outlines the basic types of care you
would want under a variety of situations. Having this document can help your
health care agent, doctors, and family members understand your desires more
completely. But it cannot cover all possible situations that might occur.
A health care agent becomes especially valuable if your condition changes. He
or she can talk to your doctors about care options, weigh the risks and
benefits, and make decisions based on the specific situation. The health care
agent and living will complement each other so you can be assured that your
medical care matches your preferences as closely as possible.
health care agent can also have more credibility in seeking a second opinion or
when talking to hospital administrators about your care. This can become
especially important if your agent feels that decisions about your health care
are not being made in the way that you would wish.
If you do not
health care agent or a living will, decisions about
your medical care may be made by family members (who may find it difficult to
be in such a position or who may disagree with each other), doctors, hospital
administrators, or judges. By appointing a health care agent, you are clearly
stating who you think understands your wishes best and who you want to make
health decisions on your behalf.
A medical power of attorney and
a living will are types of
advance directives. For more information about these
documents, see the topic
Writing an Advance Directive.