Living wills and advance directives allow you to give medical providers and family members specific instructions about the types of end-of-life-care you are willing to undergo. However, you may also want to designate a health care surrogate who can help with medical care and treatment decisions that may not be so simple or may be ongoing.
Also known as a health care agent, a health care surrogate has the legal capacity to make medical decisions on your behalf should you become mentally or physically unable to do so yourself.
What is the role of a health care surrogate?
When you designate a health care surrogate, he or she gains access to your medical records and the ability to make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated.
However, he or she must also follow any specific instructions you have about receiving or not receiving certain treatments.
What should I consider when choosing a surrogate?
Having an emotional bond with your health care agent is often important, but it is just as important to designate someone with the time, ability and resources to act on your behalf. When choosing a representative, ask yourself the following questions:
- In the event of an emergency need, will your surrogate be easily available?
- Does your potential surrogate respect your personal wishes and demonstrate an ability to act responsibly during difficult times?
- Do you feel that your potential surrogate will be willing and able to handle the practical and emotional strain of managing your health care needs, even if those needs become complex or ongoing?
Even if you do have an ideal representative in mind, know that you can also choose an alternative surrogate as a backup-agent. Once you do choose an agent, make sure to discuss you specific health care wishes early and often.