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The Beginner’s Guide to Medical Decision Making in Virginia

Medical decisions and quality of life decisions should not be taken lightly; it is always wise to be prepared and ensure that you will be cared for according to your wishes. Whether you are unsure of where to begin, what to think about, or if you even need to formalize your wishes, Michelle Hopkins and her team at The Hopkins Law Firm are ready to help you navigate this difficult topic.

Do I Need To Formalize My Quality Of Life Preferences And Assign Medical Decision Making Authority?
While you are not legally required to, if you have a strong preference to receive or not to receive life support, or the type of care that you receive, the only way to ensure that those wishes are followed is to legally formalize them. Formalizing your wishes is appropriate no matter where you are in life:

  • If you have been diagnosed with a medical condition which will impact your mental capacity to make decisions for yourself, formalizing your preferences and assigning decision making authority is imperative for your care. Doing so sooner rather than later is recommended; you lose the ability assign power after you are deemed incapacitated.
  • If you have an upcoming medical procedure, preparing documents to formalize your wishes is recommended in case the procedure necessitates medical decisions being made.
  • If you are feeling well and healthy right now, it is still wise to prepare for the unexpected, such as suffering a severe stroke or getting into a car accident and becoming comatose.

How Do I Formalize My Wishes?
Medical decisions and quality of life preferences are formalized by the execution of legal documents.
Individuals who want to assign medical decision-making authority to family or friends, and state their quality of life wishes, should execute an Advanced Medical Directive (AMD) (sometimes referred to as a Medical Power of Attorney). If you have executed a Power of Attorney document, know that the decision-making power held by that individual is solely financial; they would not be able to make medical decisions on your behalf. This document is customized to state whether or not you want life prolonging procedures to be administered, such as artificial respiration and nutrition. This document also states if you are an organ donor, and any other specific wishes you want to formalize for your care. A copy of this should be provided to the individuals assigned decision making authority and to your primary care physician. It is wise to carry a copy with you to express your wishes in the event of an emergency.
Individuals who do not wish to be resuscitated in the event of a medical emergency should execute a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR). The state of Virginia does not allow lawyers to prepare these; they must be executed with your primary care physician. It is wise to carry a copy with you once it is executed, so that in the event of an emergency which occurs outside of the care of your primary physician, first responders will be aware of your decision.

Who Should I Assigned Decision-Making Authority to?
When assigning such authority, consider the following:

  • Location. Is the individual local to your residence? If your agent lives far from your residence, the distance and possibly different time zone could impact their response time in the event of an emergency.
  • Relationship. It is best to pick the person who knows you better than anyone else. As these documents cannot account for every single scenario that could occur, choosing a person who knows you well will offer you peace of mind that the right decision would be made. It is not required for this individual to be a family member; you may choose a friend.
  • Beliefs. If you hold strongly to a particular set of beliefs, it is best to select someone with similar beliefs to act on your behalf.
  • Trust. You should trust the individual that you assign as your health care agent implicitly and totally.
  • It is your decision. This decision is a very personal one and it is an important decision. Make this decision completely on your own without any outside influence. Try not to become concerned about anyone being offended.

Who Should I Provide Copies Of My Executed Documents To?
Provide copies to the individuals assigned power, to your primary care physician, and if possible, provide a copy to the closest emergency rooms to your residence. You may also want to consider registering your documents with the Virginia state registry.

Summary
Michelle Hopkins and her team at The Hopkins Law Firm are able to prepare an Advanced Medical Directive as efficiently as possible in anticipation of upcoming medical procedures or for your general peace of mind. Please contact our office today at 571-248-2210 for more information.

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