A health care proxy is a legal document that gives you the ability to appoint another party to make health care decisions on your behalf in the event that you become incapable of making these decisions on your own. The document will only be used if you are found to be incapable of make logical medical decisions for yourself.
Another document called a living will is a critically important complement to your health care proxy. While a health care proxy names and authorizes another person to make medical decisions on your behalf, a living will addresses your wishes with regard to life-sustaining medical treatment in the event you become terminally ill, permanently unconscious, or in the end-of-life stages of a fatal illness.
It is important to have a health care proxy for a couple of reasons:
The medical team who will be treating you needs to know who to go to in the event that you become incapacitated or cannot speak for you. They need to know who to talk when important decisions need to be made regarding your medical treatment options.
Having a health care proxy will give you a certain amount of peace of mine. This is because, in the event that you cannot speak for yourself, you will have already designated someone who you trust to express your wishes regarding medical treatment, rather simply leaving it up to chance.
Imagine you fall into a coma or persistent vegetative state after an accident or illness, your family members may disagree on whether you should be kept alive on life support or be allowed to pass away naturally. By signing a health care proxy beforehand, you can determine who is to make those life and death decisions on your behalf and save your loved ones a lot of stress and acrimony.
What’s more, if you become partially disabled and need assistance in communicating with your healthcare providers, a health care proxy can help there as well. Without a health care proxy or similar document in place, your medical providers, by law, will not be able to discuss or disclose any of your medical information to the person who will be communicating on your behalf.
Your core values, beliefs, and desires should dictate what you put into your health care proxy. This means taking into consideration all that is important to you––your religion, your family, the quality of life you desire, etc.
Here are a few things you should consider:
Health care proxies are allowed in 49 of the 50 states and in the District of Columbia. The forms used to create a health care proxy may differ from state to state, but you generally don't need to use any pre-made template, as long as you follow certain guidelines.
The usual guidelines for creating a health care proxy are as follows:
You are allowed to have an attorney draft the document for you in order to ensure that it sufficiently expresses your needs and desires. Once your health care proxy is completed and signed, you should keep a copy of it with you at all times. In addition, you should provide copies of the document to your agent(s), significant other, close friends, and health care providers.
The person you authorize to make healthcare decisions on your behalf is called your “agent”, but may also be referred to as your proxy, representative, or health care surrogate. Just about any competent adult can act as your health care agent - your spouse, children, brother, sister, or even a close friend. It is also wise to pick a backup agent, just in case your primary agent is unable to perform their duties.
Some state laws require that all adult individuals fill out a health care proxy form. The form will require personal information about the filing party, including name and address. Information about the agent will also be necessary. The filing party must ensure that the person they choose is legally able to be an agent. Both parties should sign this form, and it may also need to be witness and notarized.