Are Health Care Directives Worth The Paper They’re Written On?
HEALTHCARE DIRECTIVES ONLY WORK IF YOU KNOW HOW TO USE THEM
1. What is a healthcare directive anyway?
It is a legal document that a person signs, specifying his or her wishes if the person becomes incapacitated and health care decisions must be made. It gives another person the power to make those decisions, including end of life decisions. A person must be incapacitated for the document to take effect.
2. If your aging loved one has signed this paper, what is the responsibility you have if you are the “agent” or appointed person to make decisions?
You have the power to make all health care decisions if your aging loved one can’t speak for himself. You also have access to all medical records and information.
You don’t need anyone else’s permission or consent. It is helpful to keep others informed of what you intend to do and are doing, particularly family members.
Courts are not involved in this document except in very rare instances when the document is not clear or it is disputed for a significant reason.
Doctors can be reluctant to follow the person’s decision to stop treatment or to avoid artificial means of care to keep a person alive. Their own personal beliefs can interfere with following the wishes of the person who signed the document in some cases.
3. What do I need to do to follow the wishes of the person who wrote the healthcare directive?
Read the document carefully and understand what it says. If it says “comfort measures only” that means no treatment except to avoid pain and stay clean and rested. You need to be an advocate for the person who appointed you as agent, even if you personally disagree with the wishes stated on the document.
Communicate with the doctor in the hospital or place where your loved one is being cared for. Remind him or her about the healthcare directive.
It is your job as the appointed agent to carry out your loved one’s wishes, speak up and see that those wishes are followed. You make the decisions.
4. When is a healthcare directive not worth the paper it’s written on?
A healthcare directive is only as good as the agent’s ability and willingness to see that it is followed. If the people caring for the incapacitated person do not remember or acknowledge what the person’s wishes are, it is up to the agent to remind them. The incapacitated person can’t speak up. The agent must be the voice of the person who can no longer speak up.
So, in summary, you need to read and understand, communicate and be an advocate. Without these actions, the healthcare directive is not worth anything. On the other hand, the agent can be a successful and loving voice, protecting the wishes of a loved one, sometimes in his last days.
For specific questions you may have about a problem with health care directives or other issues, come to AgingParents.com for your complimentary strategy session. Fill out a short form to tell us what is bothering you and we’ll speak to you in person.
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