Who gets to determine when my terminally ill mother, who is on life support, is allowed to pass? My aunt, who has power-of-attorney, or her children?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
Thisisamazing asked...

My mother is terminally ill and on life support, and my sister and I have to decide whether to allow her to continue on. My aunt has a general power-of-attorney, and she believes she has the right to make this decision without consulting us. My sister and I aren't minors, and we believe our decision supersedes hers. What does the law say?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

If the document your aunt holds is specifically a power of attorney for healthcare, and your mother formally appointed your aunt to act as her agent for medical decisions before she became unable to make them for herself, that might trump any rights you and your sister may have to direct your mother's final care.

That written, however, the reality is that most doctors are extremely hesitant to take actions contrary to a family member's wishes -- especially if it is a close blood relative and especially if there are two of you opposing the actions.

Your first best course of action may be for you and your sister to sit down with your aunt and talk over the best course for your mother’s care, keeping one thought foremost in mind: what your mother would want if she had been able to express herself.

If you are unable to agree, or the conversation only goes to underscore your differences -- which it might -- then consider asking the hospital or medical institution to help resolve the matter. Most have some dispute resolution procedures in place for just the situation you describe. Contact the facility's patient representative or ombudsperson for more information.