HEALTH CARE PROXY:
MAKING YOUR WISHES KNOWN
If you were in an accident and had a head
injury that left you temporarily confused and unable to
make a decision for yourself, whom would the doctor ask
to make those important treatment decisions? What
if you were permanently in a coma and had no hope of
meaningful life? Would your family know what you
would want? Would all of your children agree on a
plan? Although we can never know what life holds in
store for us, we can plan who will make your health care
decisions for us if we are not able to do so.
WHAT IS A HEALTH CARE PROXY?
care proxy is a legal document that allows you to name a
person (called a health care agent) to make health care
decisions for you in the event that you are not able to
do so for yourself. This document only takes effect
if your physician has determined in writing that you lack
the capacity to make or communicate health care
WHO CAN BE A
HEALTH CARE AGENT?
Any competent adult (18 or older) may serve as a health care agent as long as the agent is not the operator, administrator or employee of a nursing home, hospital, where at the time of completion of the health care proxy, you are a patient, resident or have applied for admission to the facility. However, an operator administrator or employee of a nursing home, hospital or other health care facility, may serve as an agent if that person is related to you by blood, marriage or adoption.
WHY WOULD I WANT A HEALTH CARE PROXY?
A health care proxy allows you to decide who will make decisions for you if you cannot. Remember, if you are in a coma or otherwise unable to direct you own care, your treatment will be decided by others, who may not know what you would want. For example, if your family is unable to agree among themselves or if they do not agree with the physician, decisions about your care might be made by the court. A health care proxy can help to minimize conflict among your loved ones. It is also important to remember that a proxy is useful when you are only temporarily unable to communicate your wishes.
HOW SHOULD I GO ABOUT GETTING A HEALTH CARE PROXY FORM?
many ways to get a health care proxy form. For
example, you can request a form from the Massachusetts
Executive Office of Elder Affairs. Send a
self-addressed stamped envelope to 1 Ashburton Place
5th Floor, Boston, MA 02108. You
may also contact Massachusetts Health Decisions: send $6
for two forms and a booklet to PO Box 417, Sharon, MA
WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH THE FORM AFTER I HAVE SIGNED IT?
Make several copies and give one to your health care agent and one to your primary care physician. If you are being admitted to the hospital, bring a copy with you and give it to the admitting clerk. Keep a copy and the original at home with your other important papers. A photocopy is as acceptable as the original.
HOW SHOULD I DECIDE WHOM TO CHOOSE AS MY HEALTH CARE AGENT?
Think about the member of your family and your friends. Who is considered the strong one, the one who always seems to manage in a crisis? Who would be available to meet with doctors to discuss your care if you were in the hospital.
Talk with that person. Ask that person if he/she is willing to make decisions for you. Talk about your values and beliefs and the types of treatment you would want in different situations. Consider that persons ability to do what you would want and to not be overly influenced by other family members or friends. Be sure that this is the person whom you could trust to follow your wishes. You may only appoint one agent, but you may appoint an alternate in the event that the first person is unable or unwilling to serve if you need him/her. Be sure to have all the conversations you need to discuss your wishes and beliefs. Take the time you need to develop the plan you want.
WILL MY DOCTOR BE REQUIRED TO FOLLOW MY HEALTH CARE AGENTS DECISIONS?
In the event that your doctor has determined that you are unable to make your own decisions, the doctor is obligated to follow your wishes providing the health care agent does not request anything that is illegal. If the physician does not agree with the decisions of the agent, the doctor must help the agent find another physician to care for you.
WHAT SHOULD I DO NOW?
Begin the discussion about health care proxies with your loved ones and set a date by which you will complete the documents. Remember that a health care proxy is for any adult. Selecting a health care agent and completing the form helps you to retain control of your life, even if you are not competent to make decisions because of an illness or injury.
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?
You may be
able to get more information about advance directives
from you doctors office or from the member services
office of your health plan. The Executive Office of
Elder Affairs (800-AGE-INFO, 1-800-243-4636) is an
additional resource or you may contact your local Council
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