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If I give someone a medical power of attorney what decisions can they make on my behalf?

If you give a person a power of attorney for healthcare then that person has the right to make healthcare decisions on your behalf.

Those medical decisions can include:

  • Health care;
  • Housing;
  • Safety;
  • Hygiene;
  • Clothing; and
  • Nutrition.

Problems can arise when power of attorneys for healthcare are not specific enough. If you intend to have a medical POA written, you need to ensure that you cover yourself sufficiently in cases of life-threatening illness and whether you wish or do not wish to be resuscitated. You should also specify what kind of medical treatment/personal care you wish to receive.

Can a person who has a power of attorney for healthcare override a doctor’s decision?

Powers of attorney are powerful documents, which is why it’s so important to appoint the right person or include a healthcare directive that spells out the kind of medical treatment and personal care you want to receive. The POA gives an appointed person the power to make decisions about personal and healthcare if you are mentally incapacitated.

That could include the first right to consent or refuse medical treatment if you are incapable. That means it’s likely that an appointed person, whose decision-making ability hasn’t been limited in the POA, may be able to override a doctor’s decision if he or she doesn’t believe the medically incapacitated person needs or should receive a certain treatment. However, there are exceptions to the POA’s decision-making ability in regards to a person’s healthcare.

For example, under the British Columbia Health Care (Consent) and Care Facility (Admission) Act, a doctor may override the POA’s decision-making ability in regards to healthcare if it’s necessary to keep the person alive or to prevent serious physical and mental harm and if the appointed person failed to comply with their duties.

The Alberta Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act forbids an appointed person and other decision-makers to make medical decisions where there is a personal directive, as well as in the following types of healthcare decisions:

  • Psychosurgery as defined in the mental health act;
  • Sterilization that is not medically necessary to protect the adult’s health;
  • Removal of tissue from the adult’s living body         
    • for medical education or research purposes;
  • Health care that involves participation by the adult in research or experimental activities, if the health care offers little or no potential benefit to the adult;
  • Any other health care prescribed in the regulations.

Every province and territory has their own act that spells out exceptions to the decision-making ability of POA’s when it comes to healthcare and it’s best to consult with the statute of your province or a lawyer.

It’s important to note that a POA and/or an attorney for healthcare cannot direct a health practitioner to do something or refrain from doing something if it is against the law.

Powers of attorneys for healthcare as well as directives are complicated and involve very important decisions about one’s health, medical treatments, and possibly end-of-life care. It’s always a good idea to consult a doctor and a lawyer to ensure you understand the medical POA and directive and that your POA or directive will follow your wishes and instructions and be legally valid.

Read more:

What every older Canadian should know about: Powers of attorney

Powers of Attorney Ontario