Diagnosed with Mesothelioma? Choose a Health Care Agent

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma choosing a health care agent, or what is also referred to as a “durable power of attorney for health care”, should be one of the first things on your list. Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer that begins in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart due to prior exposure to asbestos, most of through one’s occupation. Survival time from point of diagnosis is usually less than a year, so setting someone close to you to be your health care advocate is essential early on.

Designating a health care agent means giving someone you trust the power to speak for you regarding pain medication, types of treatments, life support, resuscitation, and end of life care when or if you become unable to communicate your wishes on your own. It is best to have all this in writing and to let your physician, oncologist and medical team know who you have chosen to be your agent.

Your Health Care Agent will then be able to make all decisions for you regarding all aspects of your health care, including:

  • Power to direct, withdraw, or withhold life prolonging treatment, including artificial nutrition or hydration
  • Permission to allow, refuse or withdraw participation in federally regulated research related to mesothelioma
  • Take legal action, if needed
  • Requesting, receiving or reviewing all information regarding physical or mental health, including medical and hospital records, and to sign releases to obtain such information on your behalf
  • Make decisions about autopsy, tissue and organ donations, and disposition of body (in conformity to state law) after death

The health care agent only has authority to make care, custody and medical treatment decisions when the patient is no longer able to make them. The agent then has power to make decisions according to your wishes that were expressed either verbally or written in what is often referred to as a living will.

Although having such conversations is not always easy, informing your health care agent of all desires concerning life-prolonging care, medical treatment and services, and after death procedures is necessary if you want to have choice around such matters, otherwise the health care facility will make them for you.

Having your wishes written and signed by witnesses ensures enforceability, as long as they are within legal and ethical bounds. If you or a family member is diagnosed with mesothelioma, talking about such issues and making wishes specific and clear, is highly recommended.

If you have been selected to be a health care agent or durable power of attorney for your loved one, know their wishes ahead of time. Ask questions so that you have a very clear understanding of what he or she wants. Make sure that the treating physicians and nurses know who you are and how to contact you at all times. Communicate the wishes to the medical team beforehand to make sure they can be followed without contest.

If you need help in having wishes enforced, ask to speak to the medical treatment facility social worker or patient representative. Be polite, yet firm about making sure your loved one’s wishes are followed. Take steps to take care of yourself as well as this is not always an easy role of responsibility to carry.

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