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Who will make my medical decisions if I don't make a choice?

Home Patients & visitors Legal & ethical decisions Choices and Champions My champions Who will make my medical decisions if I don't make a choice?

Recognizing your legal decision makers

If you do not have a healthcare agent or guardian, and you are not able to make your own medical decisions, the law specifies who is given the legal right to make decisions for you. This power is given by the state – not your doctor or the hospital where you are a patient. Below is a list of people – in the order listed – who will be given this authority, depending on the state in which you are being treated.

North Carolina

  • Your husband or wife (even if you are legally separated); or
  • A majority of your reasonably available parents and children who are at least 18 years old; or
  • A majority of your reasonably available brothers and sisters who are at least 18 years old; or
  • An individual who has an established relationship with you, is willing to act on your behalf and can reliably convey your wishes.

If none of these people are reasonably available, your doctor may provide treatment without your consent as long as another doctor agrees that you need the treatment. 

South Carolina

  • Your husband or wife (unless you are formally separated); or
  • Your parent or adult child; or
  • Any of your adult brothers, sisters, grandparents or grandchildren; or
  • Any other relative by blood or marriage who is reasonably believed to have a close personal relationship with you.

Any of the individuals listed above will not have priority over others if your healthcare provider had actual knowledge that you did not want that person involved in decisions concerning your care.

Virginia

  • Your husband or wife (but not if a divorce action has been filed); or
  • Your adult child; or
  • Your parent; or
  • Your adult brother or sister; or
  • Any other relative in descending order of blood relationship; or
  • Any adult who:
    • is not a director, employee or agent of the healthcare facility where you are being treated;
    • has exhibited special care and concern for you; and
    • is familiar with your religious beliefs, basic values and preferences previously expressed by you. NOTE: Two physicians must decide whether an adult meets these criteria. Any adult appointed in this capacity cannot give consent to withhold or withdraw a life-prolonging procedure.