Like a Power of Attorney for financial matters, a Power of Attorney for Healthcare allows the “Principle” to name someone to act as their “Agent” when healthcare situations arise. Like the Power of Attorney for Financial matters, you are not giving up your ability to speak for yourself; you are simply giving your agent the ability to speak for you if you are unable to do so. The Healthcare Power of Attorney will be used if you are temporarily, or permanently, incapacitated and need healthcare services.
Again, let’s consider Tom and Cindy Client. Assume that Cindy has named Tom as her Agent for healthcare. Unfortunately, Cindy is in a vehicle accident and is taken to the hospital. Surgery is needed and the doctors need to know who to speak with about the particular treatment. Because Tom is her Agent, he is able to speak to the doctors on her behalf and authorize the needed treatments.*
Scope of the Agent’s Powers
The scope of the Agent’s authority depends on what the Principle has determined. Like the Power of Attorney for Financial matters the powers can be general or limited. Some of the things you may want to consider in your Healthcare Power of Attorney are:
- Religious objections to particular treatments;
- Preferences as to home, hospital, or hospice treatments;
- Organ donation; and
- Certain treatments for certain illnesses, including addressing the “persistent vegetative state” question.
Selecting the Right Agent
Because you, the Principle, are giving the Agent a great deal of influence over your body, it is very important you have complete trust in your Agent. It is also advised that you speak with your Agent and communicate your desires. This discussion should include some “what if” scenarios to make sure the agent understands their role.
Distinction between a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Living Will
I will discuss the Living Will (aka Physician’s Directive”) in a later post, but allow me to distinguish between a Power of Attorney for Healthcare and a Living Will. A Living Will is designed to communicate your desires to your Agent and physician’s when/if life support becomes necessary. A Living Will does not give anyone the authority to do anything; it simply communicates your desires for end of life decisions.
* Please note, Cindy Client did not suffer any harm in the writing of this post; this fictitious situation was used only as an example!