If you are scheduled for serious or risky surgery, it is a good idea to discuss the merits of an advance healthcare directive with your physician. One option is a durable power of attorney that authorizes a trusted friend to make decisions on your behalf while you are incapacitated; another is a living will. However, your surgeon cannot obligate you to execute either legal document.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney is a legal document that you can use to name someone to make decisions for you if and when you are incapacitated. The power of attorney can relate to financial matters or to healthcare decisions. A durable medical power of attorney -- termed healthcare power of attorney or healthcare proxy in some states -- allows your agent to review your medical records and select treatment options, doctors and facilities for you.
A living will also is a legal document and an advance heathcare directive. You use this document to state that you do not wish doctors to take steps to prolong your life after it is clear to them that you will not recover. Like a durable power of attorney, a living will must be in writing, signed by a competent adult in the presence of witnesses. Some states require that one or both documents be notarized. If you make both a living will and a durable power of attorney, your agent is bound to follow the dictates of your living will.
As you prepare for a serious medical procedure such as heart surgery, it makes sense to investigate advance healthcare directives. Every serious surgery presents some risk of rendering the patient incapacitated, and setting up a durable power of attorney or a living will does not increase or decrease the odds. While advance directives are not for everybody, you cannot make an informed decision without understanding their purpose and procedure.
Nobody can force you to sign a durable power of attorney or a living will. A competent adult must make the decision to execute one of these legal documents of her own free will, and any coercion can invalidate the document. Your doctor, as a healthcare professional, can discuss advance directives with you as you prepare for surgery, but cannot insist that you execute one. Many hospitals provide patients with information about directives and some offer assistance in executing them. If you decide to make an advanced directive, bring it with you when you go to the hospital for the heart surgery.