What They Are And What They Do
What is a medical power of attorney? continued...
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
Why do I need advance directives?
Advance directives give you a voice in decisions about your medical
treatment, even if you are unconscious or too ill to communicate.
As long as you are able to make and express your own decisions, you can
accept or refuse any medical treatment. But if you become seriously ill, you
might lose the ability to participate in decisions about your own
Research has shown that 80 percent of us now die in a medical facility such
as a hospital or nursing home, as medical technology can now prolong life as
never before. The quality of that life, however, may be greatly reduced. As a
result, many patients, families and caregivers face difficult questions about
how much technology to use when the patient cannot get better. That means most
of us will face a decision about whether to use life-sustaining treatments at
the end of our lives. If we cannot speak for ourselves at that point, other
people will have to make the decisions for us.