Occasionally, politicians, like lawyers, do something useful. In 2007, Utah passed the “Advanced Health Care Directive Act”. The Act offers a standardized form (often called a “Living Will”) that directs health care providers regarding a person’s life sustaining medical care, and withholding or withdrawing such care. The form itself is sort of a hot mess and not easy to navigate without some assistance thanks to some sloppy drafting by legislators. Nevertheless, since there is a reasonably certain chance each of us will someday die, and a 50/50 chance we will spend some time incapacitated or disabled, it makes sense to take care of this now.
Before the Act, doctors and providers recognized an individual’s right to express his or her wishes through a Living Will and to appoint an agent with authority to make health care decisions on his or her behalf. However, evidently there was some confusion as to form and interpretation.
To prepare your Health Care Power of Attorney, consider the following:
First, who do you want as your agent (and as an alternate) to make decisions regarding your treatment if you are incapacitated? If you’re married, you probably want your spouse to serve. But what if your not married or your spouse is not able to serve, who then? Do you have an adult child who is better than his or her siblings at handling pressure? Is one more thoughtful and contemplative? Does one work in the field of health and medicine?
Second, what decisions is your agent authorized to make? How broad is his or her scope of authority? Can your agent fire your doctor? Change care facilities? Choose an experimental procedure? Get second opinions?
Third, when it comes to end of life treatment, you’ve got some options to choose:
Do you want your agent to decide whether your life should be prolonged? Or, do you want to decide to prolong it yourself regardless of your condition or prognosis? Or, do you wish to have all care withdrawn (food, fluids, antibiotics, CPR, dialysis) that would prolong your life except for care to keep you comfortable and pain-free? And if so, do you place any limits on your agent or care provider to withhold or withdraw care?
These are not decisions that are particularly enjoyable to contemplate. However, having a Health Care POA with a Medical Directive in place is a compassionate thing to do for your loved ones. It gives them guidance and comfort in dealing with very tender matters at one of life’s most emotional moments.