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A health care power of attorney (oftentimes called an "advance directive") is a document in which you name someone else as your "agent" to make health care decisions for you if, in the future, you cannot speak for yourself.

If you cannot make or communicate medical, health care, and personal care decisions because of a temporary or permanent illness or injury, with a health care power of attorney you can keep control over health care decisions that are important to you because you state your wishes about any aspect of your health care and choose a person to make and communicate those decisions for you.

Appointing your agent to make health care decisions is particularly important. At the time a medical decision needs to be made, your agent can participate in discussions and weigh the pros and cons of treatment decisions based on your wishes. Your agent can decide for you whenever you cannot decide for yourself, even if your decision-making ability is only temporarily affected.

Unless you formally appoint someone to make health care decisions for you, many health care providers and institutions will make critical decisions for you that might not be based on your wishes. In some situations, a Court might have to appoint a guardian for you unless you have stated your wishes in advance and named someone to act for you.

Chapter 144B of the Code of Iowa specifically provides for the use of durable powers of attorney for health care, and sets out the requirements for the document establishing the power of attorney. The law specifically describes the document as one "authorizing an attorney-in-fact to make health care decisions for the principal if the principal is unable, in the judgment of the attending physician, to make health care decisions."

A health care power of attorney can relieve family stress. By expressing your wishes in advance, you help family or friends who might otherwise struggle to decide on their own what you would want done.

-- January 2, 2002.

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