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In Case of Emergency – Understanding Medical Power of Attorney

Officially declaring your wishes for your medical care in your Medical Power of Attorney and Medical Directive is an essential component of your Estate Planning. Copies of your Medical Power of Attorney and Medical Directive should be given to your named agents so that they are aware of your desires. Your medical care providers should be provided a copy for your file. However, emergency situations may arise in which your Medical Power of Attorney and Medical Directive are not readily accessible when important decisions need to be made. Or, you may be in an emergency situation with family or friends without access to their legal documents. What happens then?

If an adult patient is incompetent or otherwise mentally or physical unable to communicate, the attending physician may make a treatment decision that may include a decision to withdraw life-sustaining treatment. This decision would be made in conjunction with a family member, consulted in this order:

  •  Patient’s Spouse
  •  Patient’s Reasonably Available Adult Children
  •  Patient’s Parents
  •  Patient’s Nearest Living Relative

Treatment decisions must be based on knowledge of what the patient would desire, if known, and must be documented in the patient’s medical record and signed by the attending physician.

If no qualified person is available when this decision has to be made, the attending physician’s decision must be concurred in by another physician who is not involved in the treatment of the patient, or by a representative of an ethics or medical committee of the health care facility. The fact that a patient has not executed or issued a directive does not create a presumption that the patient would or would not want life- sustaining treatment.

Ideally, Medical Power of Attorney and Medical Directives would be readily available when needed to the treating physicians. Please make sure the people you want making medical decisions for you understand your wishes and have copies of these important Medical Directives. Copies can even be pdf copies stored on the cell phones or the cloud.


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