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What is a Medical Power of Attorney and How Does It Affect Me?

Posted on Fri Mar 16, 2018, on Medical Power of Attorney Living Will

A Medical Power of Attorney is a document that is signed by a principal.  This signer must be a competent adult. The document directs a person that the principal trusts to act as an agent and make healthcare decisions on the principal’s behalf should the principal be unable to make them for themselves. This document is valid immediately.  Once signed by witnesses or notarized it will continue indefinitely unless there is a specific termination date stated.

What Can a Health Care Agent Do?

The agent can make decisions on a wide array of issues.  The document covers most everything except committing the principal to a mental institution, convulsive treatment, psychosurgery, abortion, or the neglect of comfort care.

How Do I Revoke a Power of Attorney?

The principal may revoke the Medical Power of Attorney by notifying the agent or physician either orally or in writing. In some cases, this is unnecessary. For example, if the agent was the spouse of a principal, a divorce between the two revokes the Medical Power of Attorney.

What if I am Young and Health?

Obtaining a Medical Power of Attorney may not seem necessary to one who is young and healthy.  However, accidents happen every day. Having an appointed agent allows this trusted person to make decisions regarding your critical medical issues. It is essential that the agent be someone who shares your values. Your agent must know your basic medical history. There is also an option to have an alternate agent. This way, if your primary choice is unavailable, you have a backup.

Who Can Serve as Agent?

Anyone can be an agent.  In some states do exclude some people. For example, the principal’s physician or healthcare provider. Others prohibit the physician/provider’s employees (unless they are family). Further exclusions include residential care providers.

Where Do I Get a Texas Medical Power of Attorney?

Contact: the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, local hospital, long­-term care facility, physician, attorney, or any other state health organization. There must be two witnesses present at the time of the signing of the document.  Or the principal may sign it and have it notarized by a public notary. At least one of the witnesses cannot be the agent designated. Or a spouse or relative by blood, attending physician, entitled to the principal’s estate, or an employee at the place where the principal is a patient/ a person providing direct care to the patient.

The principal’s physician and their employees must follow the directive.  The guideline is to the agent’s consistency of the desires of the principal, law, and Medical Power of Attorney. If the physician does not wish to follow an agent’s decision, the physician must inform the agent as soon as possible, which allows for the agent to select another physician who is willing to follow the directives of the agent.

What if the Physician Does Not want to Remove Life Support?

In the instance that a physician does not wish to remove life­-sustaining treatment to a principal, but the agent wishes to withdraw the treatment, there is a specific procedure, as an estate planning lawyer Arlington TX can explain. First, the physician’s decision an ethics or a medical committee review the decision. The physician nor the agent may attend. After the ethics or medical committee makes its determination, it provides the agent with an explanation of the decision. If the agent or the physician disagrees with the decision, the physician or provider must transfer the patient to a physician who is willing to comply with the agent. If those involved correctly follow these procedures, the healthcare provider and physicians are immune to disciplinary action, civil liability, and criminal liability.

On the other hand, if the agent wishes to continue life­-sustaining treatment and the physician does not, similar procedures exist. During the meeting of the ethics or medical committee, the agent may attend. Once making the decision, if the agent disagrees he may transfer the patient to another physician.  This new physician will continue providing life-sustaining treatment. However, after the 10th day has passed following the agent’s notification if the patient remains, the physician who decided that they did not want to continue life-sustaining treatment is not obligated to maintain it. If this procedure is correctly followed, the hospital and its physicians cannot receive disciplinary action.  Further, there is no civil or criminal liability.

Ethics or Medical Committee:

If there is no ethics or medical committee review, the physician and hospital do not receive immunity. Agents can also review and receive information about the principal’s mental and physical condition. They must execute release required to obtain this information. And they must consent to the disclosure of information. If acting under good faith an agent is not criminally liable.

It is important to obtain a Medical Power of Attorney before you have entered the hospital. Once you need one, it might be too late.  This prevents added stress when you are already struggling. This document is easy to obtain. The document allows you to have peace of mind. You then know that you will be taken care of properly. Even if you are unable to make decisions for yourself.

Thanks to our friends and contributors from Brandy Austin Law Firm PLLC for their insight into the medical power of attorney.


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