Have You Chosen Your Health Care Agent?

When people consider completing their Advance Directive for health care, most assume they are making a decision about their desire for life support (such as CPR). It’s true that all state forms have a question about whether or not you would want to have CPR in the event of a serious illness or unexpected cardiac arrest, but it’s not the most important question on the form. In fact, you can leave that part of the form BLANK and still have a valid Directive.

The most important part of the form is the legal nomination of a health care agent (or proxy). Your agent is the person who will speak for you if you are unable to speak for yourself For example, if you are in a coma, sustain a head injury or stroke, are in severe pain or have cognitive impairment such as dementia. This person has important responsibilities. No health care professional may provide treatment without permission from the patient or their proxy.

Did you know that almost 50% of patients hospitalized over age 65 required the assistance of their health care agent to make an important decision about their care? In the absence of legal documents, the health care agent is assumed to be the next of kin. However, many people do not adequately consider whether that person is up to the job. Being a health care agent is often difficult and emotionally taxing.

To point, here are is a summary of the rights and responsibilities of a health care agent:

  1. The right to consent to or refuse medical treatment
  2. The right to review your medical records
  3. The right to decide about housing/treatment facility options after hospitalization
  4. The right to consent to or refuse organ donation
  5. The right to decide about the disposition of remains after death

It’s important to note that your health care agent does not have the right to make any decisions for you until you are deemed incapable of making decisions for yourself, unless you make your health care agent effective immediately. This is a subtle point in an advance directive that requires some thought. On the one hand, no one wants to cede control over their health care decisions too soon, but on the other, you wouldn’t wish for a delay in treatment while physicians or the court decides whether you are able to decide for yourself. Your wishes, personality and relationship with your chosen health care agent really influence whether you choose “effective immediately” or “only if I am not capable.”

We think the choice of health care agent and the communication We have developed a tool to help you consider the choice of health care agent. Even if you think you know who it should be, answer the following questions to make sure you’ve chosen well:

Take Our Healthcare Agent Quiz Now!

If you would like to download the California Advance Health Care Directive, click here

Contact Us if you would like help finding your state’s Advance Health Care Directive.

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