By Michael Arthur Vacca, Director of Ministry, Bioethics, and Membership Experience
Our Lord teaches us to care for our loved ones. Indeed, whatever we do for them, we do to Christ Himself (Matthew 25:40). Recognizing that our Lord is Himself the Divine Physician who cares for our loved ones far better than we ever could, we should confidently ask Him how He wishes us to care for those He has entrusted to us, such as our spouse and our children. In that spirit of obedience to the Divine Physician, I want to propose a way of caring for your loved ones that can be charitable and prudent. This way is to have a legal healthcare power of attorney, sometimes called a healthcare proxy, so that in the event that your loved ones cannot make medical decisions for themselves through incapacity, you can make these decisions in accordance with their wishes and the moral law.
A common misunderstanding is that the law prioritizes marriage and the family such that you would already be the default decision maker if your loved one is unable to make their own decisions. But unfortunately, there is a mountain of evidence that the rights of marriage and the family are often disregarded, and tragically replaced with the interests of corporations, experts, and those who stand to benefit from policies that have nothing to do with what is best for your loved ones whole health in spirit, mind, and body. You cannot therefore trust that the mere fact of your marriage and parenthood is sufficient to safeguard your family from a legal perspective. Many hospitals ask, and in some cases pressure, patients to sign a Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form so that physicians have the final say on the medical treatment received by the patient.
There is really only one safeguard for your family, the Lord. But one potential way of ensuring you are able to cooperate with the Lord’s plans is to have the legal authority to make the decisions necessary to protect them as the Lord wants them protected, with concern for their whole health.
One objection to a healthcare power of attorney or proxy is that since it is possible to put forth one’s desires in a very specific advanced directive in a document such as a living will, it is unnecessary to appoint a legal agent to make medical decisions for your loved ones. There are two major problems with this understanding. The first is that it is not possible to know definitively what you will want and what the Lord may be asking of you in a future situation that is not actually present. The second major problem is that judges and the courts may interpret the language in your advanced directive differently than you intended. Given the secularism of the world and the prevalence of worldviews that marginalize and outright exclude Christ, it seems imprudent to trust that your language will be interpreted faithfully. But what is much more certain is that your spouse who knows you better than anyone other than the Lord will make the right decision in accordance with the moral law and your wishes. I would submit that a healthcare power of attorney or healthcare proxy is much safer and better than an overly specific advanced directive. It is also important not to be too vague since courts have invalidated advanced directives for lack of clarity. Therefore, some qualifications combined with the appointing of a healthcare proxy appears to be the best solution.
In light of the foregoing, I firmly believe that the best solution to protect your loved ones is a Protective Medical Decisions Document from the Patients Rights Council: https://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/. Some states require a state-specific document and others will allow a more general document that works in multiple states. So it is important to do your research and if you live in a state with specific requirements, be sure that your durable healthcare power of attorney meets the requirement of your state. If you use the Protective Medical Decisions Document from the Patients Rights Council, they have a state-specific form for those states that require it. More information on this can be found here: https://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/advance-directive-protective-medical-decisions-document/. To obtain a PMDD packet, phone the Patients Rights Council (800-958-5678 or 740-282-3810) between 8:30am and 4:30pm (eastern time).
May the Lord of life protect you and your loved ones as you seek to glorify Him in your family and work.