Health Care Agents: Appointing One and Being One
How should I handle my personal feelings when acting as a health care agent? continued...
Unacknowledged feelings can make you very angry, and your anger may come out
in inappropriate ways such as arguing with doctors, nurses, and others caring
for the patient or with family members. Creating conflict when it is
unnecessary will make it more difficult for you to get information and be an
effective advocate. Anger can even hurt the care of the patient if the focus of
those caring for the patient shifts from dealing with the patient's needs to
dealing with you.
It is perfectly appropriate to seek help. People without medical experience
cannot be expected to understand the health care systems and the medical issues
that are involved. You should expect to need guidance in dealing with them.
Some physicians can be quite sympathetic to the issues you are dealing with
and, if asked, will try to help.
If you feel particularly comfortable with a nurse, talk with him or her.
Chaplains often have a great deal of experience dealing with individuals and
families struggling with difficult decisions and can be very helpful, even if
you do not share a common religious outlook. Patient representatives and social
workers also may be resources. Look to your own friends and communities.
Sometimes people you do not know well, but who have gone through similar
situations, can be a wealth of support and information.
Serving as a health care agent is both an honor and a responsibility. You
have probably been asked to serve because you have a personal and emotional
connection to the person making the appointment. The person trusts you and
believes you can use your best judgment. There is no ideal standard for the
You can only do the best job that you can do. This booklet highlights some
of the challenges an agent may face and offers suggestions for possible
responses; however, the situations covered here may never occur or you may
encounter different ones. If you are called upon to act as a health care agent,
it may help to bear in mind that you are providing a deeply-needed service to
someone who is now helpless. This knowledge can be a source of great personal
comfort and satisfaction for you and can sustain you when making difficult
Glossary Advance Directive
A general term that describes two kinds of legal documents, living wills and
medical powers of attorney. These documents allow you to give instructions
about future medical care and appoint a person to make health care decisions if
you are unable to make them yourself. Each state regulates the use of advance
Benefits and Burdens
A commonly used guideline for deciding whether or not to begin or stop
medical treatments. A benefit can refer to the successful outcome of a medical
procedure or treatment. Outcomes can be medical (e.g. the heart beats again) or
functional (e.g. the person is able to walk to the bathroom after being
incapacitated by a stroke), or one that supports the patient's values (e.g. the
patient is able to die at home as wished).