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How a medical power of attorney benefits you

If you are like many New Yorkers, you have strong feelings about the type of medical care you want and do not want in the event you must enter a hospital or nursing home as a result of an accident, injury or catastrophic illness. But what if your condition prevents you from conveying your wishes to the doctors and other health care professionals?

This is a very scary thought indeed, but a medical power of attorney may be just the solution you need to what could be a very serious future problem. This is a legal document you sign appointing someone else to make your medical decisions for you in the event you cannot make them for yourself. This person can go by a variety of names including your health care agent, your surrogate or your attorney in fact.

Stating your medical preferences

You can be as specific and detailed as you wish in your medical power of attorney. Most people include the following provisions at the very least:

  • Whether or not you want life support machines and/or life-sustaining treatments, and if so, which one(s)
  • Whether or not you want pain medications, even if they may shorten your life
  • Whether or not you wish to make any anatomical gifts upon your death
  • Whether or not you want the medical examiner to perform an autopsy on your body after you die
  • Whether you want burial or cremation
  • The person(s) who can have complete access to your medical records

Choosing your health care agent

Whatever you call your appointed representative in your medical power of attorney, (s)he should be someone who knows your wishes and agrees with them. After all, (s)he will be the person who carries them out if you cannot do so. Most people designate either their spouse or one of their adult children as their health care agent, but only after having full and open discussions with them as to their wishes.

When deciding on your representative, consider the following:

  • Does (s)he understand and agree with your medical wishes and desires?
  • Does (s)he understand medical terminology so (s)he can realistically discuss your options with doctors and other health care professionals?
  • Can (s)he make calm, rational decisions while under the stress and strain of your illness or injury?
  • Is (s)he assertive enough to follow your wishes regardless of the advice of doctors, relatives, etc.?
  • Is (s)he willing to serve as your designated attorney in fact?
  • How far away does (s)he live; i.e., can she get to your hospital quickly in an emergency?

Just to be on the safe side, you should consider appointing a secondary health care agent who will serve as your attorney in fact should your first choice be unavailable, unwilling or unable to serve when the time comes.

Once you have drafted and executed your medical power of attorney, keep the original in a safe place such as a safe deposit box or at your attorney’s office. Make sure that your designated health care agent has a copy, and give a copy to all of your doctors so they can place their respective copy in your medical files.

The more people who know exactly what your medical care wishes are, the less likelihood that your family members and/or friends will engage in possibly acrimonious future arguments around your bedside as to which treatments and procedures are best for you under the circumstances of the occasion. In a very real way, your medical power of attorney benefits not only you, but your loved ones as well.

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