It is of great importance for everyone to appoint a health care surrogate. If you are unable to make your own decisions, a health care surrogate is the person who steps in to make decisions for you. Discussing things in advance with your surrogate can help ensure that the treatments you receive are in line with your personal beliefs. For single adults, this can be especially important; without a spouse, the person the law defaults to as your decision-maker might not be whom you would rather make those decisions. Without appropriate planning, you might not receive the medical care that you prefer.
Decision-Making Without a Surrogate
No one wants to imagine a social worker making critical decisions about health, including things such as surgery or life-sustaining medical care. Although this scenario is a last-resort option, Florida law provides this alternative and others in case family members and close friends are unable to make decisions. This is an example of default surrogate consent. For traditional family groups, this automatic solution is far from ideal. Unfortunately, many single individuals–especially as they age–have even fewer favorable options in this type of situation.
Default Health Care Surrogates
Default surrogate consent statutes exist to create a path for important, time-sensitive decisions to be made in a hierarchy of priority. They allow decisions to be reached without the need for court proceedings. Default surrogates also exist because many Americans have not named a health care surrogate in writing and don’t have advance directives. Consent laws allow a default surrogate to be selected automatically.
If a patient does not have a Designation of Health Care Surrogate in place, decision-making responsibilities will go to a guardian or spouse. This is the first stumbling block for single adults. Authority can then pass to the following individuals:
- An adult child or several children
- Either parent
- One or more siblings
- A relative with close contact
- A close friend
If there are no relatives and the patient is legally unbefriended, it will be up to a licensed social worker with appropriate training to make decisions. Although professionals try to achieve the right outcome, their actions don’t always reflect the patient’s preferences.
Health Care Surrogate Decisions
Your health care surrogate is involved not only at end-of-life care when your living will is in effect. Health care surrogates also help any time you cannot make your own medical decisions. Consider if you’re in a traffic accident and unconscious, needing treatment. Or consider if you are in surgery, anesthetized, and a decision needs to be made. By designating your surrogate well in advance, you also have the time to have conversations with your surrogate to make sure that person knows what your choices are.
Potential Health Care Surrogates
Talking about this sensitive issue is a challenge, but you need to put this information in writing too. Take the time to have conversations with potential surrogates who understand your wishes and would be willing to make decisions on your behalf. Parents, siblings, and other relatives can be a good choice, but close friends sometimes have a better understanding of your health and your beliefs. However, people whom you know really well, even family members, might not be suitable candidates if your wishes conflict with their moral principles.
After you have discussed your preferences with potential surrogates, you may name a primary decision maker and an alternative in case the first person is unavailable. If a physician determines that you are unable to make decisions, your health care surrogate will step in to make informed choices about your medical care including surgery, treatment options, and even life-sustaining decisions in accordance with your living will.
If you don’t have a Designation of Health Care Surrogate or would like to make changes to an existing document, contact an estate planning attorney to set up a time to get together to discuss your options. In addition to designating a health care surrogate, you can complete a living will expressing your choices regarding life-sustaining care and an advance directive relating to your organ donation preferences.