Why Do I Need a Medical Power of Attorney?

By Rachel Clark, R.N.
As a young woman in my 20’s, I’ve asked myself this question many times. I am a young, vibrant, and healthy individual that doesn’t participate in risky behaviors. So why would I need a medical power of attorney? The answer is simple: should anything happen to me and I not be able to express myself, any and all decisions about my health and life could legally be made by two medical doctors. These would be people who likely do not know me, my values, or necessarily have my best interest at heart. Two medical doctors could decide to do anything they wanted to me without my consent, including but not limited to, invoking a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order and withholding food and/or water should they think that my “quality of life” would be compromised by prolonging my life.

What exactly is a Medical Power of Attorney? It is a document that allows an individual to name delegates to make healthcare decisions on that individual’s behalf should they become unable to make them for themselves. These delegates named by the signer are then able to make any and all healthcare decisions for the signer, such as giving consent for surgical or other procedures. Before signing such a document, it is critical that you are familiar with your state’s laws in regard to requirements for a medical power of attorney.

It is also important to be aware of the fact that there are multiple options out there for this document. As I’ve been researching, I’ve found that the best option for me is something called the “Will to Live.” The “Will to Live” is a legally binding document that is also a pro-life alternative to traditional living wills. It lays out the signer’s wishes in clear, explicit terms so that should the signer become “incompetent” to make decisions, their “healthcare agent” has the authority to carry out those wishes. Be sure to discuss your standard of care choices with your “agent(s)” to ensure that your choices are carried out. That way, when and if the time comes for the document to be used, there is no question as to what you would want.
There are specific documents for the state of residency of the signer. In order to obtain the correct “Will to Live” for you, visit https://www.nrlc.org/medethics/willtolive/states/. After downloading the document specific for your state, sign it and make copies for yourself and those named as your “agent” and “alternate agents.” Most states require that a “Will to Live” be notarized by a public notary, making it an official legal document. Each copy should be notarized before being given to those named as “agents.”

There are trying times coming up in the American healthcare system. It will become more and more common for doctors to participate in activities that are against the oaths they took when becoming physicians. It is your responsibility to protect yourself from being acted upon in ways that are against your conscience. In my career as a R.N., I see too many people who have not named anyone to make these hard choices for them should they become unable to do so themselves. It is my sincere hope that you will download and sign your copy today to ensure that your wishes are made clear and carried out, should the need ever arise.
By: Rachel Clark, RN BSN