How to Get the Health Care You Want When You Cannot Express Your Wishes
Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare wants to be sure that you are treated with respect and dignity and that your wishes are honored in case you are ever unable to make or express your own health care decisions.
We recognize the importance of patient participation in healthcare decision-making, and are committed to working with patients, families or other authorized decision makers to honor their preferences regarding medically indicated care and treatment.
Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare promotes the Health Care Power of Attorney document. In that document a patient may express treatment preferences and designate an individual to make health care decisions for him or her in the event of decision-making incapacity. For patients and members of the community, we offer education, facilitate conversations, and provide assistance with completing the document.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an advance directive?
An advance directive is a legal document that you prepare before you become unable to talk about your medical care wishes. The document tells your caregivers what treatments you want or do not want in terms of treatments. An advance directive also appoints someone to make those choices for you when you are unable to do so for yourself. It is important to discuss your wishes with the person you appoint so your wishes are known and may be shared with your health care provider.
What happens if I do not have an advance directive?
If you do not have an advance directive and become unable to make your own health care decisions, doctors will usually talk to your family. This works well as long as there are close family members around, and they all can agree on your care. However, if there is no immediate family, or if your family disagrees about your treatment, your doctor may ask the courts to appoint a guardian who will make your health decisions.
What is a power of attorney for health care?
The power of attorney for health care is a document that lets you appoint someone you trust as the person you want to make health care decisions for you if you cannot do so yourself. It also gives them your directions so they can honor your wishes and speak on your behalf. This is the preferred and most effective means of ensuring your wishes are honored.
When does a power of attorney for health care become effective, and how long does it last?
The power of attorney for health care becomes effective when your doctor, and another doctor or licensed psychologist decide that you are unable to make your own health care decisions. The power of attorney for health care lasts forever unless you give an end date, take back the document, or if you become able to make your health care decisions again.
Do I need a lawyer to make a power of attorney for health care?
You do not need a lawyer to develop a healthcare document. However, you do need a lawyer to make a power of attorney for your money matters.
Who can serve as the person to make my health care decisions?
This person will be called your “healthcare agent.” They must be of sound mind and at least 18 years old. Usually it will be a close family member or friend. Your physician cannot do this for you.
Do I need a witness when I sign the document?
Yes. Your document must be signed by two people who are at least 18 years old, and they must watch you sign the document. Witnesses cannot be your physician or any family members who are related to you by blood or through marriage or your health care agent. Of the Wheaton Franciscan staff, only chaplains and social workers can be witnesses.
Does a power of attorney for health care ever have to be renewed?
Once you sign the documents, you do not need to renew or redo either one. However, if you made your advance directive years ago, you may be asked if your wishes are still valid. It's also a good idea to review the document periodically to see if it still expresses your wishes.
Can a power of attorney for health care be cancelled?
A power of attorney for health care can be cancelled or taken away by you at any time, either by saying you want to cancel it, or by putting your wish to do so in writing.
Do my doctor and my healthcare agent have to follow my advance directives?
It is important to discuss your advance directives with all your caregivers so they know your wishes and can honor them.
Who should receive copies of my advance directives?
Your doctor needs to know about any advance directives you have, and they should have a copy on file. You should also give copies to the person you have asked to make decisions for you if you are unable to do so for yourself. Your spouse, your children, and other close family members or friends should receive a copy so that your wishes are known by those closest to you. You may also want to give copies to your lawyer and your clergy person.