What is it?
Where it is permitted under State/Territory law, a medical enduring power of attorney is a legal document. By signing it, you authorise a person to make health care decisions for you.
This power of attorney is often used to plan for the future. There is always the possibility that you won't be able to make decisions because of age, illness or accident.
If you have appointed an attorney, that person will have the authority to decide about your medical care in consultation with doctors and other relevant people.
Under the law most life-saving procedures can be performed without consent, but otherwise if you have not signed a medical enduring power of attorney, it may be necessary to apply to a local Court/Tribunal for the appointment of a substitute decision-maker.
What can my attorney do?
Your attorney can only make decisions for you if you become mentally incompetent to make medical decisions.
If this occurs, your attorney can make decisions about your medical treatment. For example:
- an operation; or
- medicines, drugs, etc.
It is very important you choose someone who shares your values, and/or who understands your wishes about medical treatment, especially in relation to refusing medical treatment in catastrophic circumstances.
Can my attorney refuse treatment?
In some States, as well as deciding what treatment is appropriate, your attorney can also refuse treatment on your behalf.
In general, to do this your attorney must:
- have sufficient information about your state of health;
- understand this information; and
- sign the appropriate documentation and/or seek the appropriate Court/Tribunal orders.
There are very serious issues involved in these types of decision making. It is important to get professional advice.
Does it last forever?
This type of power of attorney will last until:
you sign a new medical enduring power of attorney;you cancel it (you must be mentally competent to do this);you die; orit is cancelled or suspended by the appropriate Court/Tribunal.
How do I cancel it?
You can cancel an enduring power of attorney at any time, as long as you are mentally competent.
Check whether there are formal requirements in your State/Territory, particularly if there are registration requirements.
Advance health directives
There is legislation giving legal force to Advance Health Directives (sometimes called "living wills") in some States/Territories.
This can include directions and wishes about life sustaining treatment if you are terminally ill, or may include some issues already canvassed in our discussion of medical and guardianship enduring powers of attorney (see the next section).
Yes, this is confusing, so much so that it is difficult to construct a brief plain-English summary of the different State and Territory regimes .
The laws of advance directives and medical/guardianship enduring powers appear to overlap, and the technical language associated with them is not uniform and sometimes bewildering.
If you want to make an advance health directive associated with life and death issues it is important to get in touch with the Office Of The Public Advocate (or Public Guardian) your State/Territory.
Last Updated – June 2012