Do Your Children Need Health Care Directives?

Ashley was ready to begin her freshman year away from home in Minnesota. When August finally arrived, her parents, Donna and Brad, drove her to the place she would call home for the next four years. Things were going well, and she was enjoying her new-found independence. She also made a lot of new friends. One weekend, her friends were planning to travel to the Mall of America and persistently asked Ashley to join them. Although Ashley was hesitant about the trip due to the harsh weather conditions, eventually she relented and joined her friends on the trip. 

 Later that evening, Donna and Brad received a call from one of Ashley’s good friends, telling them that the car Ashley was in had slid on ice, causing a serious car accident and leaving Ashley unconscious with an injury to her leg. When Donna and Brad arrived at the hospital, the Doctor did not have permission to give them any information and could not answer any questions. In the eyes of the law, Ashley was an adult. Donna and Brad felt completely helpless and were filled with worry. They could not make any decisions for her and could not access her medical information. So, instead of Ashley’s loving and knowing parents making crucial health care decisions for her, an unknown physician, who did not know Ashley’s personal preferences, made the health care decisions for her.

 Unfortunately, situations like these occur every fall at numerous colleges and universities. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury for young adults ages 16 to 20. Not only are college students more likely to be injured in a motor vehicle accident than the general population, but college students are also exposed to risks if they travel abroad, go on spring break vacation, travel home for holidays, and even when they go out with friends on weekends. It is better to be prepared for the worst than to be helpless when an unexpected crisis occurs. That is why it is vital for college students to strongly consider creating a Health Care Power of Attorney (“HCPOA”) and Living Will.

What is a Health Care Power of Attorney (“HCPOA”)?

The HCPOA transfers the right to make decisions regarding personal care, medical treatment, hospitalization and health care, to a person when incapacitated. Additionally, the agent can require, withhold, or withdraw any type of medical treatment or procedure. The HCPOA empowers the maker with the ability to appoint a trusted and known person to make health care decisions. More specifically, an HCPOA has five provisions that are in the agent’s control based upon your child’s preferences. These include the release of medical records, the decision of whether or not to make anatomical gifts such as organs, tissues, or anything used for research or education, full power to authorize an autopsy and direct disposition of your remains whether it be cremation or burial, use and disclosure of health information or other medical records (HIPAA waiver), and allowance for specific rules or limitations in regards to life-sustaining measures such as blood transfusion, amputation, admission to a mental institution, etc.

What is a Living Will?

The Living Will provides an option for a natural death with only the administration of food and water for comfort and care. It restricts the use of any artificial means that would otherwise prolong the dying process and makes clear that no extraordinary life-sustaining procedures, whether medical or surgical, can be used to perpetuate life.

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