Planning for Health Care Decision Making

Written by Collett P. Small, Esquire on . Posted in General

Proper planning for health care decision making includes several key components: First is selecting a person (surrogate or agent) who will make health care related decisions on your behalf when you are unable to do so yourself. Second involves the execution of health care advance directive documents to make your wishes known.

It is critical to select a person whom you trust to be your agent as this person will be making medical decisions for you when you are unable to speak for yourself. Consequently, it is very important that once you have selected an agent that you discuss your wishes with them. It is also a good idea to discuss your wishes with your family, loved ones and health care providers. It is also recommended that that you provide your healthcare providers with a copy of all health care advance directive documents that you sign.

Health care advance directive documents are legal documents that help relate your wishes about medical decisions. Health care advance directive documents may consist of one or more documents, such as a Living Will and Designation of Health Care Surrogate which are described in further detail below.

The Living Will is a written declaration by which you direct the withholding or withdrawal of life prolonging procedures in the event you should have a terminal condition or is in a permanent vegetative state. In Florida, the definition of "life prolonging procedures" has been expanded to include the provision of food and water to terminally ill patients. A Living Will can list your wishes for pain management at the end of life, can instruct health care professionals on the type of treatments you do or do not want, and can provide for spiritual, emotional and comfort items that you would like to be present at the end of life.

A designation of Health Care Surrogate is used to designate authority to an agent to make all health care decisions during any period of incapacity. The agent provides informed consent and makes only health care decisions which you would make yourself if you were capable of making such decisions. If there is no indication of what you would do, the agent may consider your best interest in deciding on a course of treatment. You can change your agent and the instructions that you provide as long as you retain the mental capacity to understand the change you are making.

Health care advance directive documents are very personal and individualized and should be discussed with an attorney who is knowledgeable in this area. Elder Law Attorneys are experienced in health care decision making issues and medical treatment options so they are a good choice to provide assistance in preparing Advance Directive documents. If you have any questions regarding planning for healthcare decision making, do not hesitate to consult with an experienced Elder Law attorney in your area.