What medical decisions can my health care agent make for me?

Regardless of your age or health status, it can be smart to use a health care proxy to appoint an alternate decision-maker. The purpose of naming an alternate decision-maker, called a health care agent, is to control who makes medical decisions on your behalf when you are unable to make the decisions yourself. You should choose someone trustworthy who lives nearby and who will prioritize your wishes above his or her own wishes for you.

Choosing the right person to serve as your health-care agent can help avoid potential problems. However, it is also important that you and your agent understand what authority your agent will have.

You control how much authority your agent has

Unless you choose to limit your agent’s power, he or she will have the authority to make all health care decisions for you. This may include:

  • Choosing one of several possible treatments for your condition
  • Consenting to any treatments, services or procedures you may need
  • Choosing to withhold treatments, services or procedures, including ones that are life-sustaining
  • Deciding whether to have your organs and tissues donated or not

Your agent can only have artificial nutrition or hydration withheld if he or she knows your wishes. You must have verbally discussed this with your agent or left written instructions.

Your agent must act in your best interest

In general, your agent must make decisions according to what he or she understand or believes your wishes, moral beliefs and religious beliefs to be. Your agent must also act in your best interest.

With these goals in mind, your agent will base many of his or her decisions on the conversations you have had together about your medical wishes. This is why it is important that you take the time to discuss your opinions in detail with your agent.

You can also leave some specific medical requests on your health care proxy form. These requests may limit your agent’s authority. This is because your agent must follow your written wishes and may not choose an option in conflict with those wishes.

Although your agent has authority to make any health care decision on your behalf, this authority is only present after your doctor determines that you are unable to make your own decisions. If your agent decides to withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment, a second doctor may first need to confirm that you are unable to make your own decisions. Until that time, you have the right to make your own health care decisions, and your agent will not have the authority to object to any decision you make.

Naming a trusted person as your health care agent can help ensure you get the care you want if you become incapacitated. However, to help things go smoothly, it is important that you and your agent discuss ahead of time what authority he or she will have, as well as your wishes for specific types of medical care.

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