A Healthcare Power of Attorney is a document that appoints an agent to make your healthcare decisions in case you are unable to make them yourself. These situations may be as routine as a minor surgery under general anesthesia to more serious long term illnesses, or even a vegetative state. Having the right document in place can ensure that your chosen agent can carry out your healthcare decisions without delay or stress.
What qualities make a good healthcare agent? When my clients choose their healthcare agents, I mention several key qualities that they may want to consider.
First and foremost is the ability to follow directions. Your healthcare agent needs to be someone who cares about your physical well-being and who will honor your wishes. These two qualifications can be conflicting. For example, a family member might care about your well-being, but is unable to comply with your long-held desire not to have prolonged end-of-life care. The opposite can also occur: perhaps a family member does not believe in prolonging your inevitable death, and you want to be hooked up to every machine available to stay alive. Your agent does not need to share your end-of-life philosophy – he or she just needs to be able and willing to enforce your expressed wishes.
Emotional stability under pressure is another key quality. The circumstances during a life-threatening or end-of-life illness can be heart-wrenching. Regardless of how distraught they may be, your agent should be able to analyze your situation with a clear head, ask careful and sometimes critical questions of your doctors, and communicate and consult with the other family members appropriately.
Your agent needs to be able to consult other family members or friends when it is appropriate, but should be ready to carry out your wishes even when contrary opinions arise in the family. This will require both fortitude and diplomacy.
Lastly, your agent should have the ability to advocate for your medical or long-term care needs if you become severely disabled or unable to communicate. Special issues can arise in those situations, and the agent should be able to look out for your best interests in discussions with doctors, nurses, and insurance companies.
Of course, the most important considerations are that you trust your agent to make the best decisions for your healthcare and that you are comfortable with your agent!