Some people think that Elder Law and Estate Planning attorneys are only useful further down the road. They think, “I’m healthy. I don’t need to worry about those things now.” Even while you are healthy, there is one document that everyone over the age of 18 should have in place: a Health Care Proxy (HCP). A health care proxy is necessary to ensure that someone, a health care agent, will be available to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them on your own because you are incapacitated. Currently, in Worcester County, another form is also worth considering: the Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST) form. This medical order works with the HCP to inform your health care agent and your doctors what you actually want to happen in various circumstances.
In April 2008, the Massachusetts Health Care Quality and Cost Council (MHCQCC) issued its annual report recommending that Massachusetts establish a pilot program to improve communication between patients and clinicians, and other interested parties, regarding end of life treatments. The MHCQCC found that many patients nearing the end of life were unaware of the treatment options available to them, or, if patients had been aware of such treatment options and had discussed them with their doctors previously, nothing was in place to ensure that their preferences were honored. Therefore, the Massachusetts legislature enacted legislation in August 2008 establishing a demonstrative program for the MOLST process in one community in Massachusetts: Worcester. (Yay, Worcester!)
The MOLST form is fairly simple and easy to read; the most difficult part is actually making the decisions and putting them down on paper. The form is only two pages long, and only two sections must be completed in order for the form to be honored. These two sections are Section D (patient information – specifically who is signing the document on behalf of the patient) and Section E (physician information). In Section D, it is possible for the patient, the patient’s health care proxy, or the patient’s guardian to sign on his or her behalf. If a guardian is signing for the patient, the guardian must ensure that s/he has the legal authority under the guardian appointment to do so. This may require consultation with the patient or guardian’s Elder Law attorney.
If any other section of the form is not filled out, the health care agent is not limited in his or her decisions for life-sustaining treatment for the patient. Sections A, B, C, and F ask the difficult questions regarding resuscitation, intubation and ventilation, hospitalization, respiratory support, dialysis support, and artificial nutrition and hydration. It is critical that you speak with a physician before making these decisions so that you fully understand the meanings of the terms used and the potential consequences. Once these sections are filled out, they must be honored by all health care professions in Massachusetts, where clinically appropriate. The MOLST form is different from a Living Will or another document expressing your “final wishes” because it carries more authority and is more likely to be honored. A Living Will or final wishes document is only used by health care professionals to keep your wishes in mind when making decisions about treatment. While the MOLST form is not currently legally binding, health care professionals are strongly encouraged by the state to honor it.
Finally, Section G simply asks for the contact information of the health care agent. There is also room on the form for other treatment preferences, in which you can more clearly articulate your wishes. There is an expectation that the form will be reviewed throughout the patient’s life so that if his or her preferences change, those preferences will still be honored.
View a sample MOLST form here.