In Florida, living wills and advance directives allow you to give medical providers and family members specific instructions about the types of end-of-life care you are willing to undergo. However, you may also want to designate a health care surrogate who can help with medical care and treatment decisions that may not be so simple or may be ongoing. A surrogate has the legal capacity to make medical decisions on your behalf should you become mentally or physically unable to do so yourself.
What is the role of a health care surrogate?
When you designate a surrogate, he or she gains access to your medical records and the ability to make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated. You can, and probably should, choose to allow your surrogate to get around the HIPAA privacy regulations in order to allow your surrogate the information they will need to make medical decisions. Your health care surrogate must also follow any specific instructions you have about receiving or refusing certain treatments. We have had some clients who do not wish to be kept alive at end-of-life but with an exception if they are being treated for COVID.
What other sorts of powers can I choose to give my surrogate?
If you are a female of child-bearing years, you can allow or forbid your surrogate to choose to terminate a pregnancy (consistent with state laws) if it is threatening your own life or health. Some of our elder clients choose to enable their health care surrogate to take steps to secure their safety when the surrogate believes they are no longer safe to drive. For example, the surrogate can require a driving test to make sure they should still have the keys to the car. Another optional provision allows your health care surrogate to make decisions and discuss with your doctor mental health issues.
What should I consider when choosing a health care surrogate?
Having an emotional bond with your health care agent is often important, but it is just as important to designate someone with the time, ability and resources to act on your behalf. When choosing a representative, ask yourself the following questions:
- In the event of an emergency need, will your surrogate be easily available? In this regard, we like our documents to include a cell phone number to allow immediate contact in an emergency.
- Does your potential surrogate respect your personal wishes and demonstrate an ability to act responsibly during difficult times? Do not choose someone who is so tender-hearted or emotional that they cannot handle making a tough call. Remember that your health care surrogate is going to be called on during a time of stress and potentially a time-sensitive situation.
- Do you feel that your potential surrogate will be willing and able to handle the practical and emotional strain of managing your health care needs, even if those needs become complex or ongoing?
- Is there anyone with some expertise that may be named? If you have a doctor, nurse or social worker in your close family or friends their knowledge could be helpful. Of course, balance their knowledge with the possibility they may be overly busy, especially during this pandemic!
Even if you have an ideal representative in mind, know that you can also choose an alternative surrogate as a backup surrogate. Once you do choose a surrogate or surrogates, make sure to discuss with them your specific health care wishes early and often. It may feel uncomfortable at first to discuss end-of-life decisions. You will have to push through and get them to discuss your wishes “in the event” or “hypothetically.” If you ever have a health care emergency, you will be glad of the time and effort involved in naming your health care surrogate. Give us a call at 239 434-8557 or visit our website.