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Choosing a Healthcare Power of Attorney


Like a durable power of attorney for financial decisions, a healthcare power of attorney permits you to name a medical proxy to make healthcare decisions on your behalf when you are no longer able to do so for yourself. Similar to a living will, a healthcare power of attorney can specify what kinds of measures you want taken. You should be aware that states have different names for the same healthcare power of attorney, including medical directive, directive to physicians, declaration regarding health care, designation of health care surrogate, and patient advocate designation.

Because your medical proxy may have broad authority to direct your healthcare, it is critical that you appoint someone who understands your wishes and will carry them out faithfully. The person you choose as your medical proxy should be someone you trust and someone you believe respects your right to get the kind of medical care you want, regardless of whether she agrees with your wishes.

Ideally, you should also name someone who is likely to be present when decisions need to be made such as someone who lives nearby or is willing to travel. You may also want to pick someone who would not be easily swayed by doctors or relatives who disagree with your wishes, and is who is capable of understanding your medical condition and any proposed medical treatments.

You should not choose medical personnel as your proxy. This includes your doctor and employees of a hospital or nursing home where you are receiving treatment. Some states specifically forbid medical personnel from acting as a patient’s medical proxy in order to eliminates the risk that they will fail to act purely according to the patient’s wishes.

You should name only one person as your medical proxy. Naming people to share the responsibility can result in problems such as disagreeing with your wishes at a critical time in your care, thereby rendering your proxies ineffective as activists on your behalf. If you know of two or more people who are suitable candidates, it is more sensible to name only one person as your medical proxy and name the other as an alternate. It is also wise to name an alternate medical proxy in case your first choice is unable to serve.

Naming a medical proxy is an optional part of making out your directives for your healthcare. If you do not know of anyone to oversee your medical care, it is better not to name anyone than to name someone you do not trust. Providing that you have composed a living will, medical personnel are still obligated to follow your written wishes for your healthcare or to find someone to care for you in the way you have directed.