What is a durable power of attorney for health care?
A durable power of attorney for health care is a legally binding document whereby you appoint another individual- the patient advocate- to make medical treatment decisions on your behalf when you are unable to do so yourself. The health care decisions may apply to both physical and mental health treatment. The patient advocate may only act when you are unable to do so, either temporarily or permanently. Situations such as being rendered unconscious in a car accident, a persistent vegetative state, or severe depression affecting thought processes are examples of when your patient advocate will act on your behalf.
What types of care may you request or deny?
A durable power of attorney for health care may be quite broad. You may give power to your patient advocate to refuse food or water via tube delivery under circumstances spelled out in the power of attorney. You may also grant power to the patient advocate to refuse treatment that would allow one to die, such as when doing so would prolong pain without the likelihood of a positive outcome. Alternatively, one could instruct their patient advocate to try all life saving measures.
Who can be a patient advocate? What are their duties?
Any competent adult over the age of 18 may be nominated as a patient advocate. A durable power of attorney for health care typically lists more than one patient advocate, in the event one advocate cannot or refuses to act. A patient advocate must accept their election as a patient advocate, and may revoke their acceptance at any time. A patient advocate has a legally binding duty to follow one’s wishes spelled out in the durable power of attorney, and if circumstances arise that are not spelled out in the durable power of attorney, to act in that person’s best interests in line with their wishes.
How is this different from a living will?
A durable power of attorney for health care focuses on who will be making decisions. A living will focuses more on what the decision should be. Typically, these two are combined into one document spelling out what one’s wishes are and who should make those decisions on their behalf.