I recently received a call from a client who informed me that her husband’s “routine” surgery seemed to have gone well, but he passed away several days later due to an ailment aggravated by the surgery.
This happened at the same time our national media was covering the death of Joan Rivers, following what was supposed to be a “routine” surgery. Thankfully, I had met and finalized my clients’ estate plans, including their emergency health care documents, just two days prior to his surgery.
Although there is little you can control when putting yourself in a physician’s hands, you can make things easier for yourself, your family and friends by making sure your emergency health care documents are up to date.
No surgery ever is “routine,” but planning for the unexpected gives you control. The designation of health care surrogate, living will and HIPAA waiver are essential health care documents anyone 18 or over should sign and have in their possession. Although similar health care documents executed in another state are valid in Florida, you should meet with an attorney to review Florida’s law governing these documents to ensure your emergency health care documents are up to date.
A designation of health care surrogate authorizes your appointed surrogates — whether they’re family or friends — to provide, withhold or withdraw consent for your particular health care treatment if you’re incapacitated and unable to make your own informed health care decisions. They may include authorizing an additional surgery, consenting to experimental treatment, seeking a second opinion, etc. So, when undergoing a “routine” surgery, for the duration of the time you are under anesthesia and are unable to make your own health care decisions, your health care surrogate can make your health care decisions for you should an issue arise.
Life support is any artificial means of sustaining life when someone suffers from a terminal condition, an end-stage condition, or is in a persistent vegetative state. If you’re on life support and are able to make your own informed decisions, you can decide whether to have life support removed.
But not everyone on life support is in a position to make such a decision. Without a living will, the decision to withdraw life support falls on the surrogates you appointed in your designation of health care surrogate. That can be a heavy burden to place on anyone’s shoulders. A living will allows you to decide, while you are presently able to make informed health care decisions, whether you want life support withdrawn if it is medically determined your life will be sustained only by artificial means. The surrogates appointed in the living will serve only to make sure your desires are fulfilled; they are not burdened with making the life-and-death decision we all hope to avoid.
The third essential health care document is a HIPAA waiver. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is a federal law that prevents a medical provider from voluntarily disclosing your personal medical information without your informed and written consent. Providing a HIPAA waiver to your surrogates authorizes them to collect and review your personal medical records, as well as discuss your prospective treatment with your medical provider, without any violation of federal law.