The Importance of a Healthcare Power of Attorney

In a recent commentary in the Appleton Post Crescent regarding this “end of life form,” the author contemplates completion of a form provided in a physician’s office. She contemplated choices associated with finding an adequate health care agent, making decisions about personal wishes in the event she would be unable due to illness or injury, designating a spokesperson to make critical decisions regarding end-of-life, and taking time to consider what the author would want to share with loved ones in the event of becoming one of the unplanned statistics. The truth is, too often these decisions have not been considered in advance, leaving families with difficult choices they may not be prepared to make on their family member’s behalf, at a time when emotion is centered on their impending loss.

The power of authority for health care (POAHC) form was not meant to address her needs at that particular appointment. However, what if she out of town this weekend and has an accident, leaving her comatose? Would her family know her wishes? If she is 18 and has no POAHC giving them authority, current privacy laws would make it difficult even speaking to her doctors about those desires, let alone having any authority to make medical decisions on her behalf.

Everyone 18 and older should have a healthcare power of attorney form on file. This is not just for the elderly or who have terminal illness.

In a society that does not anticipate or prepare for death, particularly unexpected death, it can be heart wrenching to watch families, physicians, and nurses struggle with decisions around end-of-life. Recently, ThedaCare at Home hosted “Consider the Conversation.”  The powerful and inspiring film focused on the American struggle with communication and preparation at the end-of-life.  We hope the event, and the publicity following it, emphasized the goal to jump start the conversation between husband and wife, doctor and patient, minister and parishioner, parent and child.  It is not a story about death, rather a film about living life to its fullest up to the very end.

Wisconsin health care leaders feel this message is important, too, and have created a statewide campaign encouraging people to talk about their desires.  

We would encourage the readers of this commentary to consider these difficult decisions, and to give thoughtful consideration to what they would desire in the event they are unable to state their own choices due of their injury or illness. 

Signed,

Fran Finley
Vice President of Operations
Theda Clark Medical Center
Co-Chair, Medical Ethics Committee, ThedaCare and Children’s Hospital

Paul Myers, MD
Neonatologist
Chief Medical Officer, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin- Fox Valley
Co-Chair, Medical Ethics Committee, ThedaCare and Children’s Hospital