Coates & Davenport, P.C.

The importance of appointing the right health care proxy

While there is no right or wrong answer about the type of end-of-life care and the methods employed to sustain life, there certainly is a wide range of views on the subject.

Many people feel strongly that where there is life, there is hope, and they are adamant that they want all extraordinary measures used to save their lives. Others take a different view, preferring to focus on quality of life rather than length. The latter might opt for only palliative care to manage pain and maintain their comfort.

Make your wishes known

If the end of life comes as a result of a terminal illness, people generally have the time to get their affairs in order. But when death comes early to otherwise healthy individuals in the form on a car accident or heart attack, there is no time to dictate what you would prefer regarding end-of-life care.

That's why it is so vital for all adults to choose a medical power of attorney, also known as your health care proxy. This person will be the one to direct your medical treatment once you are no longer able to do so yourself. You also must do more than simply have a difficult conversation. To prevent any misinterpretation of your wishes, you need to draft a document appointing a friend or relative to make medical decisions for you in the event you can no longer do so. 

Choose the right proxy

Spouses frequently choose one another as health care proxies, which is completely understandable. But in times of great stress and grief when a wife or husband is clinging to life in an intensive care unit (ICU), it can be overwhelming for a spouse to have to make life-or-death decisions.

Such can also be the case for adult children. A parent might decide that the eldest child is the one to make those decisions, when another child's temperament or grace under pressure makes them the better candidate.

Describe your preferences in detail

Receiving CPR and other resuscitative efforts after a health crisis is not the same as spending the foreseeable future on a ventilator. You may decide that while you would like the former, the latter is too horrible to contemplate.

That's why conveying these feelings to your health care proxy is so important. Don't be afraid to get granular in your preferences. Maybe you would never want tube-feeding yet hate the idea of withholding hydration. You are within your rights to dictate just how you want to manage your final exit.

Keep documents accessible

Don't store your health care proxy with your will in a safety deposit box. These documents may not be retrievable until after your death. Instead, give a copy to your doctor, local hospital, attorney and family members. The appointed proxy should also retain a copy.

It's also a good idea to discuss your intentions with your loved ones and not just the proxy. Although your health care proxy will have the last legal word on the subject, this can avert many arguments at difficult times.

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Coates & Davenport, P.C.
5206 Markel Road Suite 200
Richmond, VA 23230

Phone: 804-729-5537
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