Questions & Answers: Advance Directives and End of Life Decisions
What is a medical power of attorney?
A medical power of attorney is a document that lets you appoint someone you
trust to make decisions about your medical care if you cannot make them
This type of advance directive can also be called a "healthcare
proxy," "appointment of a healthcare agent," or "durable power
of attorney for healthcare." The person you appoint may be called your
healthcare agent, surrogate, attorney-in-fact, or healthcare proxy. The person
you appoint through a medical power of attorney usually is authorized to deal
with all medical situations, not only end-of-life decisions when you cannot
speak for yourself. Thus, he or she can speak for you if you become temporarily
incapacitated-after an accident, for example-as well as if you become
incapacitated because of irreversible disease or injury.
Brenda Della Casa had been seeing her primary care physician for two years
and had brushed off her concerns about getting rushed care - until she had a
health scare she couldn’t ignore. She told her doctor she was experiencing
terrible back pain and stomachaches. Her doctor checked her, said she was fine,
and sent her on her way.
Five days later, Della Casa, an author and dating coach in Chicago, was
traveling and had pains so severe she could barely move. When she received a
Generally, the law requires your agent to make the same medical decisions
that you would have made, if possible. To help your agent do this, it is
essential that you discuss your values about the quality of life that is
important to you and the kinds of decisions you would make in various
situations. For example, how aggressively would you want medical treatments
supplied if you had Alzheimer's disease or if you were in a coma and unlikely
to recover? Share your thoughts concerning someone you have known who was very
ill and how you would want to be treated if you were in a similar situation.
These discussions will help your agent to form a picture of your views
regarding the use of medical treatments.
If this discussion does not take place, your agent will have to examine any
general statements you might have made, your religious and moral beliefs, and
what he or she knows about your values in general. When your wishes about a
particular medical decision are not known your agent must act in your best
interest, using his or her own judgment depending on your state's law.
Some states let you appoint an agent within the living will. This is
different from a medical power of attorney, because an agent appointed in a
living will can only make decisions about using medical treatments, and only if
you are in one of the medical conditions specified in your state's law (such as
"terminally ill," "permanently unconscious," or "imminently
WebMD Medical Reference from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization