Medical Power of Attorney (POA) is something each of us, no matter our age, should have. Frequently, people poagrant power of attorney to their spouse, children or siblings. POA goes into effect only if you are not able to make competent decisions. Not when they don’t like or agree with the decisions you are making.
It is crucial to choose someone you trust and discuss what you do and don’t want done in certain circumstances (i.e. removing life support) and confirm they are willing to following your wishes in spite of their feelings at the time the decisions have to be made. When someone has been granted the POA for another, they have an ethical responsibility to act in good faith on behalf of the person.
What is a Medical POA?
It is a document, signed by a competent adult, i.e., “principal,” designating a person that the principal trusts to make health care decisions on the principal’s behalf should the principal be unable to make such decisions. The individual chosen to act on the principal’s behalf is referred to as an “agent.”
When does the POA have the right to make health care decisions on my behalf?
A POA can make health care decisions for you only if your attending physician certifies in writing that you are incompetent, some states may require 2 physician certifications. The physician must file the certification in your medical record. Usually the POA authority will take over in situations where you suffer from advanced dementia, permanent disability or experience a dramatic mental decline.
The process to appoint your POA should be done before competency is questionable. As long as you can make decisions for yourself, there is no need for a power of attorney.
Can the agent make a health care decision if I object?
No. Treatment may not be given to or withheld from you if you object. This is true whether or not you are deemed incompetent.
What health care decision making power does the POA grant to an agent?
The POA can make arrangements for doctor visits, treatments, medications, tests and surgeries if needed. It also gives the agent the power to make decisions about life support.
However, an agent cannot consent to:
•Commitment to a mental institution
•Neglect of comfort care.
In the POA document itself, you may limit the agent’s decision-making authority. The POA agent can be changed at any time by filling out a new form. Many states do not require a lawyer or notary to update the forms so check what the requirements are in your state.
Power of attorney laws do vary from state to state; I recommend that you consult with an attorney near you on the scope and range that a medical power of attorney contract has for you.