We have all heard the stories – accidents, sudden illness, or slow decline taking away a person’s capacity to make their health care or financial decisions. Unfortunately, few people have taken the time to appoint someone as health care surrogate to act on their behalf in these situations. And only a handful of people have discussed their wishes with their surrogate. Picking your health care surrogate requires some thought.
What does a “health care surrogate” do? Basically, they make your health care decisions if you are incapacitated and you can’t make decisions for yourself. Note – you have to be both incapacitated and unable to make decisions. For those who have a hard time making decisions, you can’t punt your healthcare decisions to someone else just because multiple choices paralyze you.
Many people think a health care surrogate acts only at the end of life, but there are many situations that do not end life where your wishes may need to be shared by someone else. If an accident takes away your ability to communicate, your health care surrogate will need to step up to speak for you and be willing and able to make decisions for you at a moment’s notice.
The health care surrogate must be a level-headed individual. If you sustain a severe head and neck injury, and the doctor tells your spouse that despite best efforts, you will never be able to feed yourself or engage in a conversation ever again, what will your spouse do? A spouse does not always make the best health care surrogate. Choose someone who can follow your wishes and make good decisions in light of heart wrenching emotions. For this reason, the role of health care surrogate may be best delegated to a health care professional within the family.
The health care surrogate cannot be shy about asking your health care team questions about your status and they must be intelligent enough to understand the implications of the answers. They must also be willing to stand up to the health care system. To fulfill this responsibility, your surrogate must understand your goals. Documenting your quality of life goals in the Whealthcare Proactive Aging Plan arms your surrogate with the information they need to guide health care decisions.
The health care surrogate should live in close proximity if possible and be able to take the time to address your urgent situation. Ideally, the likelihood of needing your health care surrogate is small. However, someone who lives across the country may not be in the position to uproot their life to address your health care needs.
In addition to your primary health care surrogate, it is good to have one or two backups. Ask their permission in advance and share a written copy of your quality of life directives to each of them.
Share your decision on who is serving as surrogate with other family members, and let them know you have written clear wishes that you expect to be followed. The biggest impediment to a successful outcome is to have other family members not on board with your desires. Multiple family members questioning decisions causes much angst for your health care surrogate, and they have a difficult job without the added burden.
Hopefully you’ll never need a health care surrogate, but if you do, make sure you’ve chosen the right person for the job.