Spina Bifida Family Support

"Families Helping Families"


Power of Attorney for Health Care

Published by the Hydrocephalus Association July 2004


    A Durable Power of Health Care (DPAHC) gives the person or persons you designate as your agent the power to make health care decisions for you in the event that you are unable to do so. The person you designate must act consistently with your wishes as stated in your DPAHC. This notarized document gives your agent the power to access your medical records, give consent for specific treatment, or for stopping treatment necessary to keep you alive.

    For people with hydrocephalus over age 18, a DPAHC can be a critical tool to assist them with independent living and insure continuation of appropriate medical care. If you are over 18, you are legally considered an adult. As such, your parents, family or spouse have no legal right to your medical records or to make health care decisions for you should you become ill, unless you have a DPAHC in place.

    For example, you end up in the emergency room of a strange hospital with a possible shunt malfunction. A friend calls your dad, who lives in another state. Your dad gets on the phone to the hospital to get information about your status and bingo-sorry, the patient (you) is an adult and the hospital can't release any information about you, even to your father. Even worse, your dad does not have access to your medical records and your primary caregiver or neurosurgeon legally can't release vital information to him. Shunt replacement is necessary-this is a medical emergency-and your dad is not legally allowed to make medical decisions for you. Surgery is done by a neurosurgeon you don't know, perhaps with limited experience with shunts.

    This situation can be avoided with a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. Once completed and notarized, give copies of the DPAHC to (1) your parents, spouse, relative, roommate or close friend; (2) all your doctors for placement in your medical records; and (3) carry a copy with you in your wallet. In the event of an emergency, the people you have designated as your agent(s) now have access to your medical records and the power to make medical decisions for you, consistent with your wishes. In the example cited above, your dad (whom you designated as your agent), after consulting with the emergency room team and knowing exactly what your wishes are, may authorize that you be moved to a different hospital for surgery where the doctors more experienced in shunting techniques, thereby avoiding possible complications.

Creating a DPAHC is a smart, sensible move for anyone with a chronic medical condition. It can help to insure that:

    To obtain a copy of a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care specific to your location, we suggest that you contact your local state Medical Society/Association. Most of the have websites. Most state Medical Society/Associations will provide one copy of this literature free to the general public.


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