Health Care Agents: Appointing One and Being One
If I withdraw as the agent, can anyone else make decisions for the patient?
If the patient has appointed an alternate agent, you can withdraw and the
alternate agent will become the legal decision maker. If there is no appointed
alternate agent, the outcome varies among the states.
In some states, law sets forth a procedure for making decisions for patients
who do not have designated decision makers. The law usually designates someone
from a ranked order of those who can make decisions, for example, the legal
guardian, spouse, majority of adult children, and so forth.
However, in some states there is no provision for decision making in the
absence of an appointed agent unless the patient's own wishes are clearly
known. If the patient's wishes are not known, treatment may have to
How should I handle my personal feelings when acting as a health care agent?
It is very important that you stay in touch with your own feelings while you
are acting as an agent. Otherwise, you may not realize that they can affect
your behavior and even your decisions. You may be experiencing anxiety or fear
about what will happen to this person you love.
You may be concerned that the person is suffering or is in pain and may
worry about how treatment will affect his or her condition. You may fear
thatyou will not do the right thing or that you are not being assertive enough.
You may worry that you are making decisions that make you feel better rather
than those that are best for the patient. You may also be struggling with
grief, particularly if the disease has taken away the person you knew or if you
anticipate that the person will soon die.
Sometimes people feel guilty for having withheld or withdrawn treatment,
even when they know for certain that doing so is what the patient wanted. It
may help to remember that if it were not for you, the person you love might
have had to endure a treatment that they did not want, or they might have been
deprived of care that they did want.
It is hard to listen and to hear what health care professionals are saying
when you are under emotional stress. It is difficult to be objective when you
are afraid of losing someone you love. End-of-life decisions can be
particularly difficult even when you know the person's wishes very clearly. Try
to accept your feelings and be patient with yourself. You can usually defer
making a decision until you have a chance to think about it. Do not blame
yourself if you forget to ask something or if you are afraid you made a wrong
decision. If, after thinking things over, you want to change your mind, you
generally can do so. As a rule, you can find another opportunity to ask