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Do You Need a Health Care Proxy?

Updated on October 17, 2015

Making your own health care decisions

Yes, you do. A health care proxy speaks for you if you can’t speak for yourself. A health care proxy is a legal paper that lets you pick another person to make health care decisions for you, if and only if you are unable to communicate.

Any competent adult over 18 can make a health care proxy. The health care proxy is written by you, or filled out by you. The legal documents can be obtained on line, from the hospital, doctor’s office, senior citizen offices, and medical facilities. The person who speaks for you should have your own interest in mind. This is used in cases of temporarily unconscious, coma, or any other condition that you can not speak. A doctor has to put in writing that you lack the ability to make health care decisions at the time.

You pick the person who will speak for you. This person is referred to as a health care agent. Your agent must be someone you can trust. A person who knows what you want and will make the correct choice with your interest and only your interest in mind. The person should convey your wishes, desires and medical treatment when you can not says so for yourself. You can put specific limits on the authority you give to your agent.

A health care proxy is not a living will. A living will is not a health care proxy. They are two very different legal documents. A living will allows you to leave written instructions that explain your health care wishes, especially about end-of-life care. A living will is a written statement of your wishes. A health care proxy empowers another person to speak for you. A living will has no place for you to express your choice of medical treatments.

Many states have different names for health care proxies. New York calls the paper Health Care Proxy Law. Florida, California and several states call the paper Health Care Surrogate; Rhode Island calls the paper, Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. A living will is not legally binding in Massachusetts. The following web site lists the states and the papers they accept. Check out your laws and the laws of other states that you might be an agent for a loved one residing in that state.

You are not mandated to make a health care proxy. This is your right. You will receive good health care either with or without an agent. You can change your health care decisions at any time. If you change your mind, or if your health changes, you and your doctor can discuss options and you can change your proxy. Make sure you relay any changes in your desires to your health care agent.

Some of the decisions about your medical treatments can include; chemotherapy, surgery and life-sustaining treatments. It is very important that your agent knows exactly what you want. It is also important that you understand the terms CPR and life-sustaining treatments. You have the right to decline to be resuscitated or to limit these types of procedures. You may decide to have a do not resuscitate (DNR) order. A DNR order is not the same as a health care proxy. In emergency situations, the ambulance workers or EMT’s are required by law to give CPR and treatment while responding to a call. Once you are treated by a medical doctor at the hospital or facilities your living will and your health care proxy come into play.

A life-sustaining treatment requires the use of a machine to take the place of bodily functions that no longer work. These machines can be used for long periods of time or can be used while healing takes place. When they are used to prolong the process of dying, the health care proxy can be extremely important. Examples of these types of machine and medical situations include: machines used to breathe for the patient and kidney dialysis machines. Medications, nutrition and hydration procedures that are given through a tube or machine, also are conditions to be consider by you and your health care agent.

Health care proxies are not required. They are the best way to ensure that your health care treatment wishes are followed.


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