What To Know About Medical Power of Attorney

A Medical Power of Attorney is a document that names one individual you have elected to make medical decisions for you. [1] This can only be used in situations where you cannot make them yourself. This individual will represent you in a variety of medical decisions. This depends on whether you give them restricted or full responsibility for decisions pertaining to your health.

For instance, some people choose to have their representative make the decision of whether or not to put them on life support in a situation of no hope of improvement. Others choose to give them complete authority, so they can withhold or withdraw consent for any medical care, regarding drugs, surgery, treatment, or any other number of things.

This document can also extend to psychiatric treatment, hospitalization, home health care, and even organ donation in the case of death. 

How is a Medical Power of Attorney document different than a Living Will?

The latter document states decisions that you have already made in predetermined situations. [2] For instance, it may state that you do not wish to stay on life support if there exists no hope of improvement. With a Medical Power of Attorney, however, someone else conveys that power. [1] It is useful for circumstances that you cannot predict.

Since you can’t predict these circumstances, you can’t very well make the decisions for them ahead of time, right? With a Medical Power of Attorney document, a trusted individual can make decisions for you if you find yourself in unpredictable circumstances.

Do I need a Living Will if I’ve got a Medical Power of Attorney document?

It would be beneficial to have both. Any decisions you make in a Living Will should be followed up with the name of the person you have designated to be your representative in your Medical Power of Attorney.

When would a Medical Power of Attorney be used?

This document is used in circumstances where you cannot make your own decisions regarding medical care. [1] If you got into an automobile crash, unconscious, and need care, your representative comes into a play. It also applies if they considered you mentally incompetent and unable to make proper decisions, for instance if you were suffering from dementia.

How would I be considered capable or incapable of making my own medical decisions?

A medical professional, usually either a doctor or a psychologist, will evaluate your condition to determine your capability or lack thereof in making your own choices when it comes to medical care. If you become incapacitated but conscious, you will be informed of your incapacitation and advised that your representative will now be making your medical decisions for you.

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1. American Bar Association. Patient Self-Determination Act: State Law Guide. American Bar Association Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly. August 1991.

2. "Health Care Proxy/Living Will | Stony Brook Medicine". www.stonybrookmedicine.edu. Retrieved 2018-10-29.