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Choosing a Health Care Agent

Choosing a Health Care Agent is a four step process:

(1) Select your agent

(2) Ask Your Agent if they are Willing to Serve

(3) Discuss Medical Choices with Your Agent

(4) Discuss Recommendations for Agents in Fulfilling their Duties

1. Select Your Agent

Selecting a Health Care Agent is an important decision. For most, if they are married or have a domestic partner, they ask their spouse to serve. For some, their partner might not be an ideal candidate because they are sick, disabled, or they would be too emotionally distraught to handle making decisions.

If you are not sure who to select, consider selecting an agent who will:

  • Know you and your medical decisions well
  • Ensure your wishes are followed
  • Assert themselves to insure your wishes are followed

You might also consider some practical considerations such as selecting an agent who:

  • lives in your area
  • can communicate well with your family and loved ones
  • is comfortable discussing your health care objectives and can handle their own emotions

2. Ask Your Agent if They Will Serve

Some members of your family might not want to serve as your health care agent because they might:

  • not want to be responsible for making health care decisions that the rest of the family may not agree with
  • disagree with you on moral or ethical decisions regarding life-sustaining treatment
  • be too emotionally involved to make sound decisions

Giving your agent an opportunity to decline the request is a way of insuring you end up selecting an agent who will follow your medical directive exactly, while not succumbing to their own emotions or the desires of other family and friends.

3. Discuss Your Directive with Your Agent

We highly recommend having a thorough discussion with your agent such that they can ask you questions about your directive. Having a discussion before you are incapacitated or ill, can enable both of you can remain calm and express your desires in a straight-forward manner.

  • Your discussion should include answers to the following questions:
  • Are there treatments you particularly want to receive or refuse?
  • What are you afraid might happen if you can't make decisions for yourself?
  • Do you have any particular fears or concerns about the medical treatments that you might receive? Under what circumstances?
  • What are your views about artificial nutrition (food) and hydration (fluid)?
  • If your heart stopped, under what circumstances would you want doctors to use CPR to try to resuscitate you?
  • Would you want to receive treatments such as mechanical ventilation, antibiotics, or tube feeding for a time, but have them stopped if there
  • were no improvement in your condition?
  • Do you want to receive these types of treatment no matter what your medical condition? On a trial basis? Never?

4. Discuss Tips for Your Agent

Upon discussing your medical choices, you should give your agent these tips that will help them perform their duties to the best of their ability.

1. Establish open communication with your loved one's doctor. Go ahead and start asking questions now. You should be current on your loved one's medical condition, treatments, medications and possible medical complications. Developing a relationship with your loved one's doctor can ease communication in a time of crisis.

2. Be assertive in expressing your wishes. Clearly state the reasons behind your requests without being hostile. You have been appointed to represent your loved one - you know what they would want and it is your responsibility to make sure that happens.

3. Ask questions. To be effective and to make informed decisions, learn as much as possible about your loved one's condition and prognosis.

Ask about the goals of the treatment plan - often. A physician's definition of recovery can be different from what is acceptable to you or your loved one. Seek the assistance of a social worker or patient representative if necessary. Such professionals can help improve communication between you and the physician.

4. Don't be afraid to speak to the facility's administration. If the physician is unresponsive, you may need to go directly to his or her superiors, including the chief of medicine, risk manager, hospital lawyer or administrator.

summerall law
Summerall Law, P.C. - Oakland Estate Planning Attorney
Located at 3873 Piedmont Avenue, Suite 8,
Oakland, CA 94611
Phone: (415) 944-9406
Local Phone: (415) 944-9406

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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