This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.
The health care power of attorney and living will are two of the most important documents you could have in your life care plan. The former names a trusted loved one who would make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you were no longer able to make your own decisions. The latter specifies your wishes on a number of end stage issues, including palliative care and resuscitation.
A health care power of attorney document gives you wide flexibility to specify what powers you do and do not want your proxy, or “agent,” to have. For example, you can specify whether or not your agent can consent to disclosure of your confidential health information, to select and admit you to any medical or health care facility, or to complete a do not resuscitate order on your behalf. Of course, in a true emergency situation know that you will receive care, and health care personnel are able to see that you get treatment irrespective of the existence of this document. But this document does allow you to give your agent all or some authority to make the same health care decisions that you could.
Keep in mind that your agent won’t actually be able to make these decisions for you unless and until you should become incapacitated and cannot make decisions on your own behalf. When selecting your agent the most important consideration is whether you feel that you can trust him or her, not only make sound decisions on your behalf, but to make those decisions in keeping with your faith and values. And, of course, it is extremely important that you make your agent aware of your wishes.
The second important document in your life care plan – aside, of course, from an actual will – is a living will. A living will specifies whether you would or would not like certain types of life-saving efforts. For example, you can state that CPR is acceptable, but artificially supplied nutrition or hydration is not. A living will document does not remove health care providers’ responsibility to provide care to make you more comfortable. But, instead, it deals directly with the sort of life supporting care that would be intended to postpone death.
Both health care power of attorney and living will forms are widely available online and from health care providers. You will want to be certain that you’ve selected an Ohio-specific form as certain formalities must be observed. The commonly available form – which was prepared as a joint effort of the Ohio Bar Association and a number of medical associations – combines both documents into one, and was specifically created to meet all requirements, no attorney necessary.
*Andrew Zashin writes about law for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is a co-managing partner with Zashin & Rich, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.