Medical Power of Attorney

Put the power in your hands

The tragic dilemma of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman in a vegetative state for 15 years, could have been avoided with one simple document. Every state has laws that permit the individual to create a document that provides "clear and convincing evidence" of their wishes concerning life-prolonging care. In Florida, it is called a Living Will. In Michigan, it is called a Medical Power of Attorney.

The directions in this document must be followed if the individual is no longer able to express his choices about life-prolonging and other medical care. Some may want to be kept alive by all possible means, in the hope of a miraculous recovery. Others may not want to linger, or have their estate eaten up with medical costs, when their chance of recovery is minimal or their suffering great. Each individual has the right to make that call.

The Medical Power of Attorney is drafted to specifically provide that it applies when the individual is incapacitated and no longer able to make his own decisions on medical care and treatment. In legalese, this is known as a "springing" document or power; it springs into effect only when the condition precedent (incapacitation) occurs.

The person creating the document can further limit when it becomes effective, for example by providing that it applies only if you are in a coma or vegetative state. However, making the document too restrictive can end up thwarting your purpose in creating it in the first place. Whatever the reason you are unable to discuss your own medical decisions, you want the person you have named to have the power to make the decisions for you.

Related Documents

In addition to the Medical Power of Attorney you may choose to get a "Do Not Resuscitate Order" or DNR. Some of the reasons for this additional document are:

  • You have a terminal illness
  • You are at increased risk for cardiac or respiratory arrest
  • You have strong feelings against the use of CPR under any circumstances

There are two types of DNR's in Michigan, one for individuals treating with a physician and one for individuals using spiritual means for healing.

What procedures and treatments are considered to be "life-prolonging" under the Medical Power of Attorney?

The following is a list of the most common treatments and procedures considered "life-prolonging":

  • Blood and blood products: Such as blood transfusions
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation: or CPR
  • Diagnostic tests: Includes blood, urine and other body fluid testing as well as x-rays and the like
  • Dialysis: A machine used to clean and add essential substances to the blood when kidneys fail
  • Drugs:Includes antibiotics as well as pain medication
  • Respirator: A means of artificial breathing
  • Surgery: (for example, to keep vital organs functioning)
  • Comfort care: Although pain-relieving procedures are sometimes excluded from a Medical Power of Attorney, the medical community disagrees about whether giving food or water, or drugs to alleviate pain, will also prolong the person's life. Some people feel so strongly about not having their lives prolonged that they forbid the use of such care
  • Artificially administered food and water: Such as a feeding tube

Other Purposes of the Medical Power of Attorney

In addition to a declaration regarding life-prolonging treatment, the Medical Power of Attorney is used to designate a person, called a Patient Advocate, to make judgment calls regarding your treatment and care when you are incapacitated. The important thing is to select someone you trust who will make decisions in accordance with your wishes and in your best interest. The Power of Attorney will give this person the authority to give or withhold consent for surgical procedures, hire and fire medical personnel, have access to medical records and other information, and go to court on your behalf if needed to enforce your wishes if a doctor or hospital does not honor the document.

The Medical Power of Attorney can be revoked whenever you choose prior to its taking effect, and the Patient Advocate replaced. Yet the possession of the Medical Power of Attorney and DNR Order can mean the difference between your final wishes being honored, and having those crucial decisions made by total strangers. Therefore it is a critical document for your peace of mind.