Somewhere between one’s first grey hair and a major health crisis most of us admit to our own mortality, shrug our shoulders and do little to ensure that our wishes are carried out if we cannot act in our own best interest.

Many of us who are caregivers have gone through the formalities of securing the necessary Powers of Attorney to manage the personal and healthcare interests of elderly parents. We feel secure that a duly sworn and executed legal document will empower us to effect seamless decisions on behalf of a loved one when required. Health care providers are generally compliant in respecting family wishes regarding end of life decisions with the elderly. There is usually a well-documented history, the involvement of a family physician and a care plan in place.

But what if one is young, out of province and the accompanying family has no documentation?

As one family sadly discovered, the truth is that the law is very specific about the extent and limitations of a Power of Attorney for healthcare and what happens in the absence of one.

It was going to be the vacation of a lifetime in the truest sense. Mark had been diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis earlier that month and knew that if a blood clot moved from his legs to his lungs then brain it could be fatal. He hadn’t been taking his blood thinner medication and had been partying heavily. Heck, it was the holiday season and he was on his honeymoon. There had been some discussion that if ‘anything ever happened’ Mark wouldn’t want to live like a vegetable and the plug should be pulled.

That afternoon the newly-weds headed for the slopes at Whistler amid twenty centimeters of fresh powder and hangovers worthy of the Marines. The thin air and heavy exertion proved too much for Mark. He suffered a bi-lateral stroke, fell and sustained a massive head injury.

The attending emergency room physician returned to the gurney, brows knotted in visible concern. Mark was brain dead, mechanically sustained, his face swollen, expressionless.

“We’ve done all that we can here. I have spoken with Mark’s family. They want him transferred to Toronto.”

“But I am his family. We are married, on our honeymoon. He wouldn’t want to live like this.”

With compassion the attending reached out in an overt gesture of compassion in the face of a complex dynamic.

“Yes, I do understand, but for the hospital to respect your wishes on Mark’s behalf you would have to present documentation that is valid in BC.” “You mean?”

“A Power of Attorney for healthcare is valid within the province in which it was executed.”

As fate would have it Mark did not live through the night and a potential family conflict was averted.

Mark and Gary were a married gay couple. What happened to them can happen to any family. Protect your family. Consult your lawyer and carry relevant Powers of Attorney when traveling.