As long as your loved one is competent (able to evaluate information and make their own decisions) they have the right to decide on medical treatments.

If your loved one becomes unable to make their own decisions

  • and has named you as a health care proxy, you will be able to make almost any treatment decision on their behalf.
  • and has no legal document that names someone to make treatment decisions on their behalf, rules vary from state to state as to who can make surrogate decisions. In many states the next of kin can make medical decisions; some states accept a close friend as a surrogate. Be aware that in some cases, a surrogate may not be able to decide whether to continue or withhold life-sustaining treatments. Because of their final nature, end-of-life decisions may fall to doctors or hospital administrators. And if family members disagree on treatment and who should be the surrogate, they may take the battle to court.

If you are caring for a loved one, it is critical that you talk to them immediately about creating a health care proxy document (also referred to as medical power of attorney, durable power of attorney for health, or appointment of a health care agent), so they can name the person they wants (either you or someone else) as their agent or proxy to make health care decisions for their if they were to become unable to communicate their wishes because of temporary or permanent illness or injury. In fact, naming a proxy is an important step that both you and your loved one should take, ideally well before an emergency arises.

You should also make sure you know whether your loved one has any other advance directive documents (such as a living will or, if they are very sick, a do-not resuscitate order) that advise on their health care preferences in the event that they can not speak for themself. Make sure you know their feelings on life-sustaining measures.