Depending on which state you live in, a durable power of attorney for health care could also be called a medical power of attorney, a health care proxy, or medical proxy. It is also important to know that a medical power of attorney is not the same as a durable power of attorney for financial matters.
The durable power of attorney for health care is a document you create to give your agent the authority to make health care decisions for you. An agent is the person empowered to make decisions on your behalf under the durable power of attorney. These health care related decisions are made as if she or he were you. These decisions run the gamut, including the authority to remove you from life support.
Even though you might already have a living will, you still need a medical power of attorney. A living will only gives guidance as to types of medications you would want, but it does not give authorization to anybody to make decisions on your behalf.
This means that if you are unconscious or otherwise incapacitated, only the doctor has the legal power to determine your treatment. Therefore, if you do not give someone this power, it also may not be possible for your loved ones to remove you off life support, regardless of the circumstances.
While this is still an emerging law in the United States, most doctors will try to honor your wishes if you have previously presented the document which is written in a clear and convincing way.
Many times when doctors have not followed the known wishes of a patient, it was because they were not aware of the document’s existence. Once you have these written up, make sure they become a permanent part of your medical records.