IN this post we are going in-depth about the lasting power of attorney for health and welfare. Specifically, we are focussing on the life-sustaining treatment decision. This decision is unique to the health and welfare power of attorney and potentially gives the power to your attorneys, who are normally family members, to ask for a life support machine to be switched off where there’s no hope. People think this is the same as a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order. It’s not, it is just the ability for your attorneys to have a conversation with the doctors, the medical team, that is treating you, about the realistic prospects for a good outcome of your illness when you’re unable to communicate for yourself. Your attorneys will normally know what your own wishes would have been. They would know if you wanted to be let go with dignity, or if you wanted treatment prolonging.
Ultimately, when a life-sustaining treatment decision is made, it’s never made in isolation. The fact of the matter is, it’s about who has the final say. If you’ve given your attorneys power to make life-sustaining treatment decisions, they will have the final say after consultation with the doctors. If you haven’t given that, then the doctors will have the final say after consultation with the family. The doctors will give your attorneys your family members all of the facts, they will give their received opinion and they will ask for a decision to be made. That decision doesn’t always have to be turn off the life support machine. It can be “keep going, she would have wanted to be treated, she would have wanted experimental treatments, she would have wanted the very best and the very newest that’s available”. But sometimes and inevitably, it is let her go with dignity.
And when that decision has to be made, there is no way of diminishing the severity of that decision for family members. But ultimately, if they know what your wishes would have been, they will make the right decision for you. So the life-sustaining treatment decision in the lasting power of attorney for health and welfare is very, very important and something you should discuss with your attorneys while you still can, and when you’re making the power of attorney.
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