Dying is a part of life, but can be a difficult process. Healthcare agents
can make that process easier for patients, their loved ones, and their
caregivers. Selecting a health care agent for yourself and agreeing to be an
agent for someone you love are among the most important decisions you will ever
make. This booklet was written to give you information that will help you make
There is now clear legal and ethical agreement that patients should have the
final authority to make decisions about their own medical treatment. But what
happens when patients are too sick to make their decisions known? Every state
now has a legal way for people to appoint a health care agent, someone who can
be their voice and their advocate if they cannot speak for themselves.
If your mother lives in Phoenix and you're in New York, how do you help take care of her? Angela Heath, director of the Eldercare Locator Hotline of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, has compiled 10 strategies to help you cope. This article is adapted from Heath's book, Long-Distance Caregiving: A Survival Guide for Far Away Caregivers.
Keep track of important information in a care log.
Identify your informal network
Ask for help from people in...
Healthcare agents are vital in this age of spectacular medical advances,
because technology enables us to live longer, healthier lives. This technology
can create difficult decisions about when to use it near the end of life. Many
people want to decide whether or not to undergo life-sustaining treatment if it
cannot cure or improve their condition, and can only prolong dying. When most
people cannot make their own decisions, they want those decisions made by
someone they know and trust, not by medical professionals, administrators, or
judges. Appointing a health care agent ensures that your wishes and values
guide decisions about your care.
Being the health care agent for someone can be a complex and emotionally
wrenching task. These decisions involve deeply-held personal and moral values,
as well as legal and medical issues. They are made under difficult
circumstances-the death of a loved one-and they can be final decisions.
However, being a health care agent can also be rewarding. It is an opportunity
to serve and care for someone you love.
Healthcare agents can be extremely beneficial, but only if they are
thoughtfully selected and well-prepared to assume the tasks involved. This
booklet will provide important information if you are selecting a health care
agent or if you are thinking about becoming an agent for someone else. By
carefully considering the issues raised in this text, you can reduce
uncertainty about what decisions will best reflect your wishes or those of the
person for whom you will speak. Careful thought and preparation can even
eliminate conflicts among health care professionals, family members, or other
loved ones about these complex decisions.
Appointing a Health Care Agent What is a health care agent?
A health care agent is someone you designate to make medical decisions for
you if you become unable to make decisions yourself. Your health care agent can
be a close relative or a personal friend, but should be someone you trust and
who knows you well. If you regain the capacity to make decisions, then you, not
the health care agent, will have responsibility for making decisions related to