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How can you protect your right to accept or refuse health care?

When you get seriously ill, a doctor usually gives you options for treatment. They will explain the risks and benefits of the medical procedure so you can make an informed decision. The problem is when your health condition is so debilitating that it affects your ability to decide for yourself.

Your surviving loved ones or attending physician will have to choose for you, but they will be in a challenging and biased situation. They may do everything possible to keep you alive even though it goes against your desires and significantly reduces your quality of life. Fortunately, in Alaska, you can execute a durable power of attorney for health care to authorize an agent to make specific decisions on your behalf while you are still of sound mind and body.

The importance of a durable power of attorney for health care

By signing a power of attorney (POA), you give another person (your agent) the right to decide for you and the authority to conduct your specific instructions. Your POA document must explicitly say that it is durable so that it remains in effect even after your incapacitation.

A durable POA protects your right to self-determination and free will. You must combine it with a living will where you can outline your advanced health care directives and all other medical instructions. You determine the type of medical treatment and extra life-sustaining measures you want to receive and specify those you do not wish to receive.

The consequences of not planning for incapacity

It will be hard for any person to allow their loved one to die without exhausting all viable options to keep them alive. But that can come at a cost. You could live the rest of your life dependent on a breathing machine or a feeding tube. You may even be on dialysis indefinitely. Your family members may fight over what is moral and what is practical. If they cannot agree on a course of action, court intervention may become necessary.

A durable POA does not only protect you, but it also saves your family from the burden of choosing between death or forcing you to live a life you never wanted.