Caregivers’ Rights and Responsibilities

As the spouse, partner, relative, or close friend of the patient, you have the legal right to express the patient’s wishes concerning care and treatment if the patient becomes incapable, as the patient expressed these wishes in a living will, or if you are the patient’s substitute decision maker (attorney for personal care). Even if you are the substitute decision maker, though, under certain circumstances the doctor has the right to make a different decision if, in the doctor’s medical judgement, there is a better option for treatment.

As the spouse, partner, relative, or close friend of the patient, you have the moral right:

  • to be treated as a person by your loved one’s health care providers;
  • to be treated with respect and without discrimination;
  • to have privacy;
  • to be fully informed about the patient’s illness, prognosis, and treatment, including any treatment alternatives, if the patient gave the health care team consent to share that information with you;
  • to act as advocate for the patient;
  • to express your opinions about the patient’s care and treatment if the patient is incapable, even if the patient doesn’t have a living will or you’re not the substitute decision maker.

As a family caregiver, you also have moral rights specific to caregivers, including the moral right:

  • to take care of your own physical, emotional, and spiritual health;
  • to get help for your loved one and for yourself, even if your loved one may object;
  • to take time to learn caregiving skills;
  • to acknowledge and express feelings like anger, guilt, and depression in productive ways;
  • to be treated with respect by your loved one;
  • to reject any attempt by your loved one to manipulate you;
  • to be proud of your accomplishments;
  • to protect your individuality and sense of self;
  • to enjoy aspects of your life that don’t involve your loved one;
  • to establish limits on your physical, emotional, and financial resources;
  • to take care of your loved one as long as you’re able.

As a spouse, partner, relative, close friend, or family caregiver, you also have the moral responsibility:

  • to treat the patient, the patient’s health care providers, and others with respect and without discrimination;
  • to communicate honestly with the patient’s health care providers about the patient’s medical history and symptoms, and what you think about the patient’s condition;
  • to support the patient’s efforts in receiving care and following treatment;
  • to understand that some tests and treatments may be medically or ethically unnecessary or inappropriate, and that the doctor is not obligated to provide them;
  • to understand that health care providers treat many people, and sometimes the needs of other patients and families may be urgent.

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