The Conversation Project recently posted a blog entry titled “Somebody with a Backbone”: Tips for Choosing a Health Care Proxy. We could not agree more with the post’s recommendations about how to go about selecting a power of attorney for health care decisions. The post includes a hyperlink to “How to” brochure that is an excellent resource for those thinking about whether a parent needs a health care powers of attorney, or even a financial power of attorney, and who might best fill those roles. As an example of a ‘how not to’, my mother put off her health care proxy decision until forced by a hospital where she was to be admitted for a procedure. My sister was our mother’s transportation to the hospital, and Becky was ‘drafted’ to be our mother’s health care proxy. In a subsequent hospitalization, my mother also made me her health care proxy. That too, was made out of necessity rather than a discussion. Years later, when our mother’s health eventually deteriorated to the point when hospice was suggested, we made a joint decision to proceed with the doctor’s recommendation. Over the course of a few weeks, Mom slipped into a vegetative state that lasted several days. My sister had second thoughts about our decision and became extremely distressed. Self-doubt persisted long after our mother’s death.
While I would not characterize my sister as someone without a backbone, a frank family discussion could have eased her conflicted feelings. But we gave into our mother’s reticence to have an end of life conversation.