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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 continue.

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Sometimes people feel guilty for having withheld or withdrawn treatment, even when they know for certain that doing so is what the patient wanted.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 questions.

WebMD Medical Reference from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

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