Whom to Leave in Charge of Your Care: Choosing your Medical Power of Attorney in Bucks County, PA

An estimated 75% of all Americans will at some point be in a medical situation in which they cannot communicate their wishes. While it isn’t pleasant to think about and the conversation may be awkward, it’s important to take time to develop an advanced medical care plan, including a medical power of attorney, in case an accident or unexpected health condition leaves you suddenly unable to make decisions for your own healthcare. Having someone to advocate for you and your wishes is critical when you can’t advocate for yourself.

PA Law and health care decisions
Pennsylvania does have a standard hierarchy of authority that it follows if an adult is unable to make health decisions and has not named a healthcare agent. Healthcare providers will turn to others for guidance on your care in the following order:

  1. Your spouse
  2. An adult child
  3. Either of your parents
  4. An adult sibling
  5. An adult grandchild
  6. A close friend

If the prior person is not available (for instance, if you have no spouse) medical personnel will go to the next available person for guidance (in this case, your adult child). 

But what if you have more than one child, or your spouse or children have different views on healthcare than you do? Naming your medical power of attorney solves this problem. 

What a medical power of attorney does
A medical power of attorney goes by a number of titles: healthcare power of attorney, durable power of attorney for healthcare, and healthcare proxy. These titles all designate a person who will make healthcare decisions when a doctor determines the patient cannot make decisions for himself. This may include when the patient is in a coma, is taking necessary medication that impairs judgment, or is suffering from cognitive decline or dementia. 

Those decisions may include:

  • Consent or refusal of medical treatment
  • Choosing medical personnel – doctors, therapists, etc.
  • Admission and discharge from medical facilities – hospital, nursing home care, etc.
  • Access to medical records
  • End-of-life decisions, donation of organs

Choosing your medical power of attorney
It can be difficult to choose your healthcare proxy, especially when you have children who are all close to you and to each other. You don’t want feelings hurt, but you do want to choose one person to make the final decisions. 

Choose someone who is available, lives nearby, and is levelheaded. You want someone who has similar views as yours and who will follow your wishes. If you want to be kept alive using all measures, then knowing you have chosen a loved one who holds that same belief could be comforting. But you should also choose someone who will not take the power upon himself or herself and exclude family members. 

Whomever you choose, it is important to have at least two other people who are alternates. It is not uncommon for people to simply designate a spouse as power of attorney and then become widowed. Without an alternative person designated, you will be without a voice if something happens to you before you get to designate a new proxy. 

For your own peace of mind and to ensure that your wishes are fulfilled, take the time to choose a medical power of attorney and two alternates, and make sure all your children and close relatives have a copy of this information. It will be a comfort to you and all your loved ones if the day comes when a medical power of attorney is needed. 


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