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Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
Department of Medical Humanities
Clinical Ethics Center at Memorial Medical Center


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What is an "Agent"?
Even the most knowledgeable and experienced healthcare worker would be unable to predict all the possible situations we might face in the future. So, even if you have a living will expressing your desires about the treatment you want, you may want to name someone you trust to make health care decisions for you when you are unable to do so yourself. A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare (DPoAHC) is a document which allows you to appoint an agent for yourself.

Your agent's responsibility is to see that your wishes for medical treatment are followed as closely as possible. If your specific wishes about a treatment are not known, it is the agent's duty to use his or her knowledge of you, your wishes, beliefs and values, to decide as they believe you would decide.

Your agent has the authority to make all healthcare related decisions including disposition of your body after death. A friend appointed as 'agent' can overrule family wishes.

You can give your agent specific directions. You can also place specific limitations upon their authority.

Your agent (under a DPoAHC) has no control over or access to your financial resources and cannot be held responsible for your expenses.

State regulations vary. Most states will honor an advance directive which is legal in the state it was first written. However, if you move to another state, or spend significant time in another state (such as winters) you may want to check on the laws in that state to ensure that your wishes can still be carried out.

Who should I choose?
Serving as healthcare agent for another person is a serious responsibility. Take time to consider who can most effectively serve in this role for you.

Your agent must be someone who is at least 18 years of age.

Your agent should be someone who knows you well and to whom you feel comfortable communicating your wishes     regarding health care.

Your agent may be a family member or you can name a close friend or you may chose your minister, priest, rabbi or other religious leader.

Your agent should be someone who knows you, your wishes and your values well.

Your agent should be someone who will speak with authority on your behalf.

Your agent should be someone who can be available when decisions need to be made. (A close friend who lives
nearby may be more effective than an adult child who lives thousands of miles away.)

Your agent can be most effective if you have a frank discussion with them about the treatment decisions of most concern to you. Talk about your wishes regarding long-term ventilator care, CPR, tube feeding, hospice care, tissue and organ donation, autopsy or any other medical decisions which are of concern to you.

Your agent cannot be your physician or other personal healthcare provider.

Your agent should not be opposed to your treatment wishes or too close to you emotionally to be able to act effectively on your behalf.

You may wish to consider the naming of alternate or successor agents. In the event your agent is unavailable or unable to make decisions for you, your alternate agent will be able to act on your behalf. You may list more than one alternate; they would serve in the order listed by you.

Questions or comments - email us at Clinical Ethics Center
Last Updated May 8, 2008
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