Before you name a person as your health care agent in a health care power of attorney or living will, you should discuss with him or her your general wishes related to your health care. Despite health care issues being a personal and private issue and often a topic that is avoided, your health care agent will be better equipped to handle health care decisions when you no longer can, if they have an understanding of what decisions you would have made if you still could.
If your health care agent doesn’t know what you might want they will be forced to make the decisions they think you would have wanted or the decision they want. This can cause unnecessary stress on your loved one and delays in decision-making.
Here are 25 topics we suggest you discuss with your health care agent so they can confidently make decisions on your behalf. Not all of these may apply to you and you may also have beliefs or wishes not listed here. Any additional information should also be provided to them so they can do the best job they can for you.
- Do you think it is a good idea to sign a legal document that says what medical treatments you want and do not want when you are dying (a living will)? Have you signed one?
- Do you think you would want to have any of the following medical treatments at such time as they may be recommended by your physician? If yes, would there be a limit to the time or circumstances?
- Kidney dialysis (used if your kidneys stop working)
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR (if your heart stops beating)?
- Respirator (if you are unable to breath on your own)?
- Artificial nutrition (if you are unable to eat on your own)?
- Artificial hydration (if you are unable to drink fluids)?
- Do you wish to donate parts of your body or your entire body to someone else or to science at the time of your death? (organ or body donation)
- How would you describe your current physical and mental health? If you currently have any medical problems how would you describe them?
- If you have current medical problems, in what ways, if any do they affect your ability to function?
- How do you feel about your current medical status?
- If you have a current doctor do you like him or her? Why or why not?
- Do you think your doctor should have the final say about any medical treatments you might need?
- How important is independence and self-sufficiency in your life?
- If your physical or mental abilities were decreased, would that affect your attitude toward independence and self-sufficiency?
- What are your general thoughts about the value of independence and control of your own life now and as you age?
- Do you expect that your friends, family and/or others will support your decisions regarding medical treatment?
- What will be important to you when you are dying: physical comfort, no pain, family and friends present, being at home, access to pets, religious/clergy present, anyone to specifically exclude etc.?
- Where would you prefer to die?
- What is your general attitude toward death?
- How do you feel about the use of life-sustaining measures in the face of a terminal illness?
- How do you feel about the use of life-sustaining measures if in a permanent coma or vegetative state?
- How do you feel about the use of life sustaining measures with an irreversible chronic illness (Alzheimer’s, etc.)?
- Do you wish to make any general comments about your attitude toward illness, dying and death?
- What is your religious background?
- How does your religious background or religious beliefs affect your attitude toward serious or terminal illness?
- Does your attitude toward death find support in your religion?
- How does your faith community, church or synagogue view the role of prayer or religious sacraments in an illness?
- Do you wish to make any general comments about your religious background and beliefs as related to illness and death?
- What else do you feel is important for someone making health care decisions for you to know?
If, over time, your beliefs or attitudes in any of these areas change, you should inform your health care agent of these changes. It is also wise to inform this person of any changes to your general physical or mental health, especially concerning diagnosis of a terminal illness.