Will Your Health Care Proxy Be Followed?

You may think you have all contingencies for dealing with your medical requests tied up in a neat little bow once you have made out your living will, executed a health care power of attorney, and appointed a health care agent. Generally speaking, you do. Health care providers are required to follow your directives as set out in your legal documents, and to honor the authority of your health care agent as long as she is reasonable and seems to be acting upon your wishes. It is not a perfectly predictable world we live in, however, and there are circumstances under which your wishes can be overruled by medical personnel. Among the possibilities for this would be:

  • Your wishes to take an action conflict with the conscience of the individual health care worker being asked.

  • The health care institution where you are being treated has policies, based on conscience, with which your treatment preference, or lack thereof, would conflict.

  • What is being asked on your behalf violates generally accepted health care standards for that institution or provider.

Medical personnel cannot simply ignore your written wishes. If there is going to be a conflict with the directive you have written, you and/or your agent must be told right away. Then you should be offered the option of being transferred to another institution that will comply with your directives. Not to do so can cause the resistant institution to be subject to liability for damages.

The one instance in which your health care directives can be overruled is if you are pregnant. Knowing this, you might consider including a clause for what instructions you would choose for treatment if you were pregnant. How far along you are in your pregnancy will impact to what extent your doctor or hospital will honor those wishes.

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