In thirty plus years of working in a hospital, I have talked with many people who have been asked to make a medical decision for a loved one. Frequently they have felt like they had the weight of the world on their shoulders and that they literally were holding their loved one’s life in their hands. If you have ever been in this position, then you know what a horrible feeling that is.
While it is true that when an individual is not able to direct his or her own health care, physicians will go to the Health Care Power of Attorney Agent (“HCPOA”) or the next of kin, many people do not realize that the physicians are not asking them to make the decisions, but to be the spokesperson for the patient. A good analogy for this is the way the President’s Press Secretary operates. Every day the Press Secretary is bombarded with reporters asking for answers to their questions. The role of the Press Secretary in this situation is not to give his or her own opinion, but to answer in the way that the President would answer if he were there.
In the same way, when a physician asks for a decision from a HCPOA or family member, they want that person to give, to the best of their ability, the decision the patient would give if he or she were able to do so. If you are not sure and there is adequate time, you may want to ask other family members or close friends for input. BUT, when you do ask others for their input, make sure you are clear that you do not want their personal opinion of what should be done. Rather, you want them to tell you what they think your loved one would say. When you think about it, this approach makes sense because who is in a better position to speak for an individual than someone who has been close to that person for a long time?
Although it is impossible to forsee all possible future health scenarios, it is important to talk with your loved one enough to have a sense of what his or her wishes are so that you, as the HCPOA, can act according to those wishes. I have seen that, when decision makers understand what is actually being asked of them, it takes much of the burden off their shoulders. I hope it helps you, as well.
Elder Care Coordinator