In North Carolina, if you don’t name someone as your medical power of attorney, someone you don’t trust could end up making your medical decisions. When making decisions about ill health, it is crucial to think about who you trust to fulfill your desires. If a medical event or accident happens and you can’t make decisions for yourself, do you want the state to decide who makes decisions for you? You need a medical power of attorney to make your wishes known and designate the person you trust as your medical decision-maker. 

If you don’t have a medical power of attorney and you lose your ability to make decisions for yourself, the state designates the order of your chosen decision-makers. 

Who Decides Your Fate 

Let’s say you have a car accident, and the doctors want to put you into a medically induced coma. Before they can do that, they must consult with the closest kin. They will go through this list to determine what treatment steps to take next:

  1. Your husband or wife (even if you are legally separated)
  2. A majority of reasonably available parents and children who are at least 18 years old
  3. A majority of reasonably available brothers and sisters who are at least 18 years old
  4. Someone who: 
    • has an established relationship with you
    • will act on your behalf
    • can reliably convey your wishes.

If no one claims personal responsibility for your medical decisions, your doctor may provide treatment without your consent if another doctor agrees that you need the treatment. (1) However, if you have a medical power of attorney drawn up, you make many decisions for yourself and leave the rest to a trusted loved one.

How Can I Make Decisions for Myself?

A healthcare power of attorney lays out many advanced directives. These are statements intended to let others know of your wishes. If you suffer a medical event, such as a stroke, that leaves you unable to speak or move, others will know how you’d like to proceed. 

For example, if a cardiac arrest leaves you in a vegetative state for years, languishing in a long-term care center, what would you want the doctors to do for you?

In the case of Terri Schiavo, her husband wanted to remove her feeding and hydration tubes and let her pass away. Her parents, however, fought to keep her alive even though she was in a persistent vegetative state. During multiple court battles for years, news channels reported the heated debate. A court order finally removed hydration and nutritional support after 15 years in a vegetative state, and she died. We will never know what she would have wanted for herself. She suffered the stroke as a young woman of 28 and had not prepared for a medical event.

If you have a medical power of attorney, it is your choice whether you would want feeding tubes removed. Some of us would like to keep the hydration and feeding measures in place indefinitely. Others would wish the tubes removed and accept palliative care until they died. 

Who Do You Trust?

There is no “right” choice in situations where someone needs invasive measures to continue living. However, without making some tough decisions beforehand, your loved ones face intense emotional struggles and family unease to make these decisions for you. No one knows what you would have wanted without advance directives like a medical power of attorney. 

Many members of your family and loved ones will believe they know what to do. Because feelings run high when someone is deathly ill, the resulting family discussions can result in disunity among your loved ones. Arguments about what to do may make the pain of seeing you incompetent or incapacitated even more difficult.

To help your family get through seeing you unable to care for or make decisions for yourself, you can designate the person you trust most as your medical power of attorney. This person makes any and all medical care decisions for you that you have not already made for yourself. You can specify which types of treatments you would accept or not accept including:

  • IV
  • Blood transfusions
  • Dialysis
  • Intubation
  • Respirators
  • Feeding Tubes
  • Hydration Tubes
  • Palliative Care (part of what hospice does to ease the pain and struggle associated with the process of dying. May include many different medications, including painkillers)
  • Psychiatric Care

Most of us have opinions about what types of medical care we would appreciate and which we would rather forgo. A medical power of attorney gives you the ability to make your own medical decisions. 

What Powers Do Medical Power of Attorneys Hold?

Advance Directives are the decisions you make beforehand about your future care. Your medical power of attorney documents include many advance directives. However, the medical power of attorney grants broader powers. It names the person who makes decisions such as:

  • Whether to go ahead with a risky surgery
  • When the doctors may induce a medical coma
  • Whether to treat invasive cancer with chemo
  • If you need full-time attention, such as a long-term care center
  • Whether to treat a lung infection with one antibiotic or another that different doctors may recommend
  • Deciding which doctors you see and how to proceed with the care that the doctor recommends

Making a Wise Plan

Prepare for your future so that your family doesn’t have to worry about making difficult decisions without your input. Making plans such as a medical power of attorney take the guesswork out of caring for you should you suffer an accident or medical event that leaves you incapable of decision making. It is a gift to yourself and to your loved ones to make preparations now. Give yourself the care you deserve while setting your loved ones’ minds at ease. 

We Can Help

At Hogan, Edwards, and Blue, we understand that your healthcare decisions matter for yourself and your loved ones. If you’re ready to prepare for your future and help your family should the unexpected happen, contact our experienced estate planning attorneys for a free consultation. We want to help you plan for whatever comes next. Get in touch and find out how we can help you today.