This is a general form that names a Health Care Representative and grants authority to make limited health care decisions for you including, if you wish, the decision to refuse intravenous feeding or turn off the respirator if you’re brain-dead
Health Care Power Of Attorney
This article was written for the American public but is highly relevant in a South African context.
Remember, federal law now gives you the right to consent to or refuse any medical treatment, and to receive information about the risks and possible consequences of the procedure, about advance directives (such as living wills), and about life-sustaining medical care and your right to choose whether to receive it. No one else, not even a family member, has the right to make these kinds of decisions, unless you’ve been adjudged incompetent (see “Guardianships” below) or are unable to make such decisions because, for example, you’re in a coma or it’s an emergency situation. No one can force an unwilling adult to accept medical treatment, even if it means saving his or her life.
Society has gradually come to a rough consensus on these principles, and almost all medical providers follow them. Where difficulties still arise is when your wishes or intentions aren’t clear. That’s where the next two planning tools come in.
A special kind of durable power of attorney called a health care power of attorney (HCPA) is used to deal with health care planning. It allows you to appoint someone else to make health care decisions for you–including, if you wish, the decision to refuse intravenous feeding or turn off the respirator if you’re brain-dead–if you become incapable of making that decision. The form can be used to make decisions about things like nursing homes, surgeries, and artificial feeding.
Obviously, decisions so important should be discussed in advance with your agent, who should be a spouse, child or close friend, and you should try to talk about various contingencies that might arise and what he or she should do in each case. A copy should be put in your medical record. Since it’s so much more flexible than a living will, the HCPA is a very useful document that could save you and your family much anxiety, grief and money.
You can revise or revoke the HCPA or the living will at any time, including during a terminal illness, as long as you are competent. To change or revoke either document, notify the people you gave the copies to, preferably in writing.