Life has its ups and downs. Most people choose to stay optimistic and try not to think about the bad stuff but sometimes it’s better to prepare for the worst.
There may come a time when you are unable to make a medical or personal decision for yourself. This could be due to an illness, injury, disability or temporary anesthesia from surgery. Incapacitation can occur in the blink of an eye, and if something like that happens, then it will be too late to act.
As the ongoing implications of the COVID19 pandemic become clear and life begins to return to normal, now is the ideal time to focus on our own health and wellbeing, and plan for the future.
A Medical Power of Attorney is the legal way to protect yourself if you become incapacitated. It allows you to appoint people you trust to make medical, personal and lifestyle decisions on your behalf, in case you are ever unable to make these types of decisions for yourself.
In Victoria, your medical Attorney is appointed in a document called an Appointment of Medical Treatment Decision Makers, and your nominated decision makers can only make decisions in relation to medical treatment. In other states and territories, the relevant document is called an Enduring Power of Guardianship. For states and territories that use an Enduring Power of Guardianship, this document authorises your Attorney(s) to make decisions in relation to your personal affairs, as well as medical.
An Attorney appointed by an Enduring Power of Guardianship is responsible for making decisions relating to your health and lifestyle. The types of decisions an Attorney can make vary from state to state, but typically include the following:
Where you live;
Where you work and/or receive an education;
Whether you receive support in an aged care facility or a specific hospital;
What personal services, such as attendant care, domestic support, or recreational services you have access to;
Decisions around healthcare and medical treatment (including but not limited to surgery and ongoing treatments);
Mental health services (in some states and territories); and/or
Resuscitation or euthanasia.
Your Medical Attorney can only refuse you treatment if they believe the treatment would cause you distress, or they reasonably believe the treatment to be unnecessary. They cannot refuse you emergency treatments or palliative care, and cannot consent to you participating in medical research, donating an organ for transplant or receiving an abortion without your consent.
For Victoria, a person appointed by an Appointment of Medical Treatment Decision Maker document can only make decisions relating to your healthcare and medical treatment. If you wish for your Attorney to be able to make decisions relating to your personal affairs and lifestyle (the first four dot points above), then you should prepare a Personal Power of Attorney as well.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made many of us think about our own mortality for the very first time. But death isn’t the only thing we’re having to think about. We’re also in a position where we have to decide whether or not we want to get vaccinated. The following case study details the risks of not appointing a Medical Power of Attorney and what that could mean for vaccine decisions.
The relevant state or territory Tribunal may appoint an independent government guardian, often known as a ‘Public Guardian’ or ‘Public Advocate’, even if family members are willing and able to act, especially if there is conflict within the family.
This happened in a recent New South Wales Tribunal decision (LZN  NSWCATGD 12) which involved a family dispute between two daughters over whether their mother should receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The mother did not have a Medical Power of Attorney and this meant that the Tribunal had the power to decide who should make the decision.
Although there were three daughters, the Tribunal appointed a Public Guardian. The Public Guardian was given a wide range of powers to make decisions for the mother, including the power to make decisions on the mother’s behalf, and override the mother’s objections to medical treatment.
This case demonstrates that if you do not have a Medical Power of Attorney, you risk losing the power to choose who should make decisions about your health and lifestyle. Instead, that power will be given to a Court or Tribunal that may appoint someone you do not know or who is unfamiliar with your health and lifestyle, to make those decisions on your behalf.
Under a Medical Power of Attorney, your Attorney only starts making decisions for you when you no longer have the capacity to make medical decisions for yourself. The below examples show just how important a Medical Power of Attorney can be to protect your best interests and prevent potential family disputes.
Anyone over the age of 18 can prepare a Medical Power of Attorney, so long as they have decision-making capacity. Having decision-making capacity means that you are able to make decisions for yourself and understand the implications of signing the Power of Attorney document.
An Attorney must be at least 18 years old. They must have decision-making capacity and need to sign a consent form saying they agree to be appointed as your Attorney. Your Attorney could be your spouse or defacto partner, a sibling, close friend or other trusted family member.
Yes, you can revoke the appointment provided you have decision-making capacity to do so the cancellation must be in writing using the form required by the relevant regulations or legislation in your state.
A Medical Power of Attorney will remain in place until you die or if you revoke the decision. In some states and territories, marriage and divorce may also void your Power of Attorney, depending on who you had appointed.
It will also become void if all your appointed Attorney dies or become incapacitated themselves. The Court or Tribunal in your state may also revoke the appointment if necessary.
After your death, your affairs are managed by following the terms of your Will.