January 01, 2013

What Should Lawyers Know about Advance Directives for Health Care? A Geriatrician Speaks Out

A common response from many physicians to the question of what should lawyers know about advance directives for health care would be something along the lines of, “tell your clients to talk with their doctors about it,” because creating an advance directive is a medical, not a legal, endeavor. The argument goes, who better to talk with patients about their future treatments than the physicians charged with caring for them during those difficult times? But, despite the move to make creating advance directives an increasingly medical practice, evidenced by the as-yet unsuccessful campaign to make it a billable medical procedure, I hope to show that lawyers still have an important role to play. In my (admittedly minority) opinion, this role involves helping clients understand that choosing a good person to be one’s power of attorney for health care should take precedence over signing forms indicating which medical procedures to have or not have in the event of incapacity. The reason is that these forms often do not produce their intended results. Instead, patients can end up being given either too much futile medical intervention or too little beneficial care.

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