Can my family legally stop Dad from getting medicine?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 06, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father has a medical directive that states he doesn't want care to extend his life. His doctor started Alzheimer's meds without consulting with the family. My family feels that the meds are contributing to the extension of my father's life and want to stop the medicine. Can my family do this legally without everyone in the family approving? My father is mid-stage and doesn't recognize us most of the time. He communicates little but does still walk although he is slowing down and is now starting to spend a lot of time sleeping in his chair. Am I being selfish by not wanting my family to stop the medicine?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a 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.

First and foremost: Don't beat yourself up with thoughts of being selfish. You're entitled to your differences of opinion, and especially to the very hard emotions and feelings you must be having as your father's illness progresses.

But a few realistic words about the realities of a medical directive: People complete and sign them specifically so that they get the kind of medical care they want to have if they are no longer able to express their wishes. Your father did this, and so it is his wishes that must be respected, even if not agreed to by others.

Also, since your father completed a medical directive, it is also likely that he named an agent or a proxy in it to oversee his wishes. From a legal standpoint, if your father's condition has made him unable to express and enforce his own wishes for his medical care, than that task goes to the person named as agent or proxy.

That would end the matter if it were not for the likelihood that it is arguable whether or not the meds you mention actually do or do not prolong life. In truth, if your father's directive is in effect and you choose to challenge it, you would have to back the slightly odd position that the meds do not prolong your father's life, but should be continued anyway.

It might help everyone's clarity of mind to get all concerned family members together with a trusted doctor to discuss the likely medical realities of the drugs extending or not extending life in your father's particular case. While no practitioner may truly know this, a doctor familiar with your father's condition, relative health, and medical history might at least be able to offer reasonable predictions and good explanations of the medical reasoning behind them.

If the prescribing doctor truly acted without informing anyone"ā€¯including the agent if the directive is in effect, then you may want to schedule this informational meeting with another doctor, preferably one with a geriatric specialty.

If the answer becomes more clear that your father's own wish would be for no meds, then your time might best be spent soothing and being with him as often and as easily as possible.