Medical Power of Attorney (MPOA) is one example of the individual categories within a type of authority that includes general power of attorney, durable power of attorney, and more. Designating a power of attorney (POA) means giving another person the authority to act on your behalf. The power you confer could be limited or extensive, indefinite, or temporary. While granting an MPOA does not typically require a lawyer, having a legal witness to the document is vital.
An MPOA is also often referred to as a healthcare proxy; in most respects, the two designations are the same. In each, the MPOA allows another person to make medical decisions on your behalf, either immediately or when it becomes necessary. "Becoming necessary" usually means that the person who granted the authority is either mentally or physically incapable of making their own decisions or of communicating such decisions.
Rules vary by state.
Each state governs the process of granting and using an MPOA. Several states require that a living will or advance directive accompany such a grant. However, the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging created a simple form and booklet offering a “bare-bones” approach to granting a durable power of attorney for health care. The ABA's goal is to simplify the process and increase the availability and usage of these documents. The ABA version does not include an advance directive because their research shows that such instructions are often not helpful when they need to be consulted. This situation is attributed to people preparing the instructions and choices far in advance when they are healthy. As a result, the preferences stated are either vague, outdated, or irrelevant.
However, even with the minimalist approach used by the ABA, four states have healthcare proxy laws that don’t allow their use: New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. In those states, grantors should seek the specific guidance of the state medical board or medical association. However, in every state (including those four), any hospital can advise where to obtain a form, how to process it, and what other documents may need to accompany the POA.
What authority does the MPOA confer?
An MPOA gives another person the right to make healthcare decisions for you when you cannot. For example, if you are unconscious or mentally incapable, the MPOA designee will control the decisions about your care. The person will hold this power until you regain capacity or pass away. Some potential choices include what medical treatments to authorize, including resuscitation, ventilation, and other “extraordinary measures” that medical providers may suggest in attempting to prolong life. The MPOA designee can also agree to or decline potential end-of-life treatments, pain medication, and organ donation.
If your MPOA grant has an advance medical directive, that document will detail some of your preferences, and your MPOA should follow those stated wishes to the best of their ability. Keep in mind that the more detail you provide in the document or via personal discussion, the better able the MPOA will be to fulfill your wishes when the time comes.
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