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What is a health care proxy?
A health care proxy is a legal document that allows you to appoint another person as your proxy or agent to make health care decisions for you if are unable to decide for yourself. A health care proxy is also referred to as a durable power of attorney for health care, a medical power of attorney, or an appointment of health care agent.
One thing senior citizens fear most is the idea that other people may control their life and take important decisions out of their hands. The value of a health care proxy is that it allows you to determine who makes medical decisions that will be in line with the decisions you would make for yourself if you were able. These decisions include whether you should be given artificial nutrition, hydration, or any other measures designed to prolong life.
You do not have to be terminally ill for a health care proxy to go into effect. For example, if you have a heart attack, stroke, car accident, or some other kind of incident from which you will recover, your proxy can speak on your behalf during your treatment and recovery. Your agent will have the flexibility to access your medical records and to make most treatment decisions during this time. You can restrict their power by specifically stating limits in the health care proxy document. For example, you can add to the proxy that your agent is or isn’t allowed to determine whether heroic measures should be taken to save you if your heart stops.
Ideally, your health care proxy will possess the following characteristics:
- Knowledge of your medical history and health condition.
- Knowledge of whether you want to be treated, and how.
- Ability to communicate clearly.
- Attention to detail and willingness to ask questions of medical professionals.
In addition, your proxy should be someone you trust and who knows you well, will be assertive, and will honor your wishes.
There are at least four good reasons for putting a health care proxy in place:
- You can name a backup. You can, and should, name a substitute agent in the event your original proxy is unable to carry out his duties.
- If you do not have a health care proxy in place when you need it, the laws of your state will determine who is able to make medical decisions on your behalf. Although most states allow close family members to handle this, family members may not be the people you trust most with the decisions. In some states, the decisions for those without a health care proxy are left to doctors and hospital administrators.
- You are able to keep your health care and financial decisions separate. Your health care proxy allows your agent to make only medical decisions for you.
- You can create a health care proxy without an attorney. State requirements vary. Make sure your document meets those requirements. Once the health care proxy is complete, give a copy to the health care agent you’ve assigned and to your medical providers.
Examples of health care proxy
The discussion you have with your health care proxy regarding your wishes may be one of the most important discussions of your life. Here are a few things you should discuss:
- What living well means to you and how medical treatments fit with your beliefs and values.
- Your religious beliefs.
- Any treatments you do not want to receive.
- Feelings about medical caregivers.
- How you feel about comfort-based palliative care versus life-sustaining treatments.
- Level of treatment you prefer if you are unconscious for a long period of time and are not expected to recover.