Health Care Proxy/Living Will

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    A new law, called the New Your healthcare proxy law, allows you to appoint someone you trust - for example, a family member or close friend - to decide about treatment if you lose the ability to decide for yourself. You can appoint someone by signing a form called a Healthcare Proxy.

    You can give the person you select, your "healthcare agent", as little or as much authority as you want. You can allow your healthcare agent to decide about all healthcare or only about certain treatments. You may also give your agent instructions that he or she has to follow. Your agent can then make sure that healthcare professionals follow your wishes and can decide how your wishes apply as your medical condition changes. Hospitals, doctors and other healthcare providers must follow your agent's decisions as if they were your own.

    Below are the answers to some questions you may have:

     


     

    Why should I choose a healthcare agent?

    If you become too sick to make healthcare decisions, someone else must decide for you. Healthcare professionals often look to family members for guidance. But family members are not allowed to decide to stop treatment, even when they believe that is what you would choose or what is best for you under the circumstances. Appointing an agent lets you control your medical treatment by:

    • allowing your agent to stop treatment when he or she decides that is what you would want or what is best for you under the circumstances;
    • choosing one family member to decide about treatment because you think that person would make the best decisions or because you want to avoid conflict or confusion about who should decide; and
    • choosing someone outside your family to decide about treatment because no on in your family is available or because you prefer that someone other than a family member decide about your healthcare.


     

    How can I appoint a healthcare agent?

    All competent adults can appoint a healthcare agent by signing a form called a Healthcare Proxy. You don't need a lawyer, just two adult witnesses. A form is available for printing on this page.


     

    When would my healthcare agent begin to make treatment decisions for me?

    Your healthcare agent would begin to make treatment decisions after doctors decide that you are not able to make healthcare decisions. As long as you are able to make treatment decisions for yourself, you will have the right to do so.


     

    What decisions can my healthcare agent make?

    Unless you limit your healthcare agent's authority, your agent will be able to make any treatment decisions that you could have made if you were able to decide for yourself. Your agent can agree that you should receive treatment, choose among different treatments, and decide that treatments should not be provided, in accord with your wishes and interests. If your healthcare agent is not aware of your wishes about artificial nutrition and hydration (nourishment and water provided by feeding tubes), he or she will not be able to make decisions about these measures. Artificial nutrition and hydration are used in many circumstances, and are often used to continue life of patients who are in a permanent coma. 


     

    How can I give my agent written instructions?

    Unless you limit your healthcare agent's authority, your agent will be able to make any treatment decisions that you could have made if you were able to decide for yourself. Your agent can agree that you should receive treatment, choose among different treatments, and decide that treatments should not be provided, in accord with your wishes and interests. If your healthcare agent is not aware of your wishes about artificial nutrition and hydration (nourishment and water provided by feeding tubes), he or she will not be able to make decisions about these measures. Artificial nutrition and hydration are used in many circumstances, and are often used to continue life of patients who are in a permanent coma.


     

    How will my healthcare agent make decisions?

    You can write instructions on the proxy form. Your agent must follow your oral and written instructions, as well as your moral and religious beliefs. If your agent does not know your wishes or beliefs, your agent is legally required to act in your best interests. 


     

    Who will pay attention to my agent?

    All hospitals, doctors and other healthcare faculty are legally required to obey the decisions by your agent. If a hospital objects to some treatment options (such as removing certain treatment) they must tell you or your agent IN ADVANCE.


     

    What if my healthcare agent is not available when decisions must be made?

    You can appoint an alternate agent to decide for you if your healthcare agent is not available or able to act when decisions must be made. Otherwise, healthcare providers will make treatment decisions you gave while you were still able to do so. Any instructions that you write on your Healthcare Proxy form will guide healthcare providers under these circumstances.


     

    What if I change my mind?

    It is easy to cancel the proxy, to change the person you have chosen as your healthcare agent, or to change any treatment instructions you have written on your Healthcare Proxy form. Just fill out a new form. In addition, you can require that the Healthcare Proxy expire on a specified date or if certain events occur. Otherwise, the Healthcare Proxy will be valid indefinitely. If you choose your spouse as your healthcare agent and you get divorced or legally separated, the proxy is automatically cancelled. 


     

    Can my healthcare agent be legally liable for decisions made on my behalf?

    No. Your healthcare agent will not be liable for treatment decisions made in good faith on your behalf. Also he or she cannot be held liable for costs of your care, just because he or she is your agent.


     

    Is a healthcare proxy the same as a living will?

    No. A living will is a document that provides specific instructions about healthcare treatment. It is generally used to declare wishes to refuse life-sustaining treatment under certain circumstances.

    In contrast, the healthcare proxy allows you to choose someone you trust to make treatment decisions on your behalf. Unlike a living will, a healthcare proxy does not require that you know in advance all the decisions that may arise. Instead, your healthcare agent can interpret your wishes as medical circumstances change and can make decisions you could not have known would nave to be made. The healthcare proxy is just as useful for decisions to receive treatment as it is for decisions to stop treatment. If you complete a Healthcare Proxy form, but also have a living will, the living will provides instructions for your healthcare agent, and will guide his or her decisions


     

    Where should I keep the proxy form after it is signed?

    Give a copy to your agent, your doctor and any other family members of close friends you want. You can also keep a copy in your wallet or purse or with other important papers.

    Appointing a healthcare agent is a serious decision. Make sure you talk about it with your family, close friends and your doctor.

    Do it in advance, not just when you are planning to enter the hospital.