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What Is A Healthcare Surrogate?


In order to designate an agent to make health care decisions, one must sign a Health Care Power of Attorney. Well, what happens if you or your loved one never gets around to signing a health care power of attorney and you fall critically ill or are in an accident?  The State legislature is aware that this is a common issue.  In Arizona we have a specific statute that allows a person to act as the “surrogate health care decision maker” in these circumstances.

The health care provider must make a good faith effort to find someone to make health care decisions for the patient.  The order of priority is as follows:
1. The patient’s spouse, unless the patient and spouse are legally separated;
2. An adult child of the patient. If the patient has more than one adult child, the health care provider shall seek the consent of a majority of the adult children who are reasonably available for consultation;
3. A parent of the patient;
4. If the patient is unmarried, the patient’s domestic partner;
5. A brother or sister of the patient; or
6. A close friend of the patient.

For the purposes of this paragraph, “close friend” means an adult who has exhibited special care and concern for the patient, who is familiar with the patient’s health care views and desires, who is willing and able to become involved in the patient’s health care, and to act in the patient’s best interest.

If none of the people on the list can be located or if none of them are able or willing to assist in decision making, then the patient’s attending physician in consultation with the institutions ethics committee or if that is not possible, then the attending physician must consult with a second physician who concurs with the decision.

A health care surrogate cannot authorize inpatient mental health care treatment.  Although the health care surrogate could petition the court to become the guardian for such person and include a request for mental health authority, if applicable. 

Hopefully you and your loved ones will make completing a health care power of attorney a priority, but if you do not meet the goal, at least you understand how these decisions will be made. Encourage every person you know over 18 to have a healthcare power of attorney!

Written by: Emily B. Kile, Esq.

The lawyer disclaimer: We hope you find this informative, but it is not legal advice. You should consult your own attorney, who can review your specific situation and account for variations in state law and local practices. Laws and regulations are constantly changing, so the longer it has been since this was written, the greater the likelihood that the information might be out of date.

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