Sunday, September 9, 2012

How to Choose a Health Care Agent?

No one likes to think about his or her death.  Similarly, most do not wish to consider related issues like whether to end life support or how they would want to proceed if they developed dementia or became incapacitated.  Despite the unpleasant nature of this task, advanced planning for how to manage these medical issues is critical because incapacitating conditions are not rare.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one out of every eight adults over 65 has Alzheimer’s, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.  Further, a substantial number of seniors experience strokes, and life changing accidents are always a possibility.  You want to ensure that when you are at your most vulnerable, someone will be able to direct your health care in a manner that complies with your genuine wishes and preserves your dignity.  Absent a trusted health care agent to act on your behalf, health care providers could make decisions that drastically alter your quality of life for you.  Thus, to carry out your desired course of treatment, you should carefully reflect on how you want to manage these issues so you can make an informed decision and select an effective health care agent.
There are several factors to help you choose whom to name as your health care agent.  The first question you should ask is: do I trust this person with the quality of my life?  This is such an important consideration because your health care agent must be perfectly trustworthy if you want her to advance your wishes.  Next, the agent must be able to act on your behalf when faced with opinions from family and health care providers that contradict your wishes – is the potential agent dependable and can she advocate for your needs effectively?  Will she not allow emotional duress to sway her from pursuing your health care objectives?
Further, you want to select an agent with whom you can discuss your health care needs openly so she will understand and implement your goals more precisely.  This process requires reflection on difficult topics, including what you believe is a good quality of life, what activities you would need the ability to do to experience this quality of life, whether you want every medical option exercised in order to keep you alive, and how you would want to spend your last days.  You would not want to select an agent who stubbornly argues with your views, but a good one would help you determine your wishes by exploring them with you.  To make informed decisions that balance your health needs and quality of life, the agent also must have the capability to discuss your health with physicians.  He would need to ask your doctors about your prognosis -- whether you will recover fully, what your quality of life will be, and what your chances for improvement are.  The agent must also discuss the treatment options with your doctors, the options’ probability of success, and whether they will cause suffering.     Download POA forms at    

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