Health Care Surrogate Designation

A surrogate designation is a document that formally appoints one or more persons to make health care decisions for another if the other is temporarily or permanently unable to make his or her own decisions. It usually permits the surrogate to obtain medical records and can be personalized to incorporate provisions of a living will or even combined with a living will. Health care surrogate designations are important in minimizing confusion and stress that frequently accompany a serious illness or injury. They ensure that the person you choose will make decisions if you are not able. 

A surrogate designation avoids searching for a family member to make emergency decisions and places decision-making clearly in the hands of a named person. Many authorities strongly recommend that all persons prepare a health care surrogate designation. Florida law is designed to make surrogate designations easy to prepare and use, and blank forms can be obtained from many medical providers, office supply stores, and on the internet. Some forms even include living will provisions. Even a simple form is better than none. If you wish to personalize your designation, a qualified attorney can easily assist.


Living Will

Living wills express personal wishes for end of life care. They state what life-prolonging measures an individual desires, and what measures the individual chooses to refuse. Perhaps more than any other document, a living will is deeply personal and requires that one consider the end of life. If you want medical providers to use all available means to prolong your life, then you do not need a living will. This would include resuscitation (“CPR”), use of a ventilator, artificial nutrition (“feeding tubes”), and artificial hydration (“IVs”) for as long as you live. If you do not want one or more of these procedures, or other end-of-life care, it is best to prepare a living will. The Florida laws governing “advance health care directives” attempt to balance the individual’s right to refuse treatment with society’s goal of preserving life. To achieve that balance, Florida law requires living wills be executed with certain formalities and provides a mechanism to challenge in court a surrogate’s decision to refuse or withdraw treatment. 


Living wills executed before Florida amended its laws in 2001, or prepared in another state, are effective, but medical providers may hesitate to honor them. Therefore, if expressing your right to refuse treatment is important to you, it is best to prepare a living will that meets Florida’s 2001 criteria. With or without a living will, your health care surrogate, family, friends, and medical providers can support you best if you tell them about your desires. It may seem morbid or insensitive to talk about end-of-life preferences, but no one knows when a catastrophic injury or illness may strike. If we talk about these matters, then we can live every moment of life to its fullest without worrying about what remains unsaid. The common wisdom to “live each moment as if it were our last” is wisdom indeed.


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