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In Case Of Emergency: The Importance Of Having A Health Care Proxy

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By Mia Bolaris-Forget

Regardless of our age, we all have hopes, dreams and desires for our future, and the reality of that is that while we start planning our future from a very early age, each day brings us one step closer and closer to it. But, what happens if something (you didn’t necessarily count on) happens? What happens if you get hurt or sick or both on the way (to your future)? And, what happens if you are (no longer) able to coherently and effectively make decisions for yourself and your future. Are all you hopes, dreams and wishes, even if they are final shattered?

The truth of the matter is they can be. If you don’t have a will, a living will or at least a health care proxy, and you are unable to speak (or speak up) for yourself and make your (unrecorded) views, opinions and wishes known, you may be placing yourself and your loved ones in jeopardy.

Perhaps you are not a proponent of life support, or don’t approve of certain types of (health care) treatments, operations, or medications, and for you it’s all about the QUALITY of life, and not the QUALITY of it, but the only person who knows how you feel is you, or maybe your spouse or best friend, but there’s nothing expressly stated in writing which makes your verbalized wishes nothing more than “opinion” or “hearsay” should something (God forbid) happen. And, in situations where your mate and family don’t see eye to eye or each have different wishes for you, you may be leaving them with difficult decisions that may be more than they can handle and can quite possible tear your “loving” family apart. Plus, the decisions made may NOT be in line with what YOU want (or would have wanted).

So, you can see and understand WHY is so important to write it down and let people know.

With that said, if you don’t have a will or living will, we suggest you get one. However, a good starting point for planning for your future (besides IRA and 401ks) and ensuring your wishes are carried out and met in case of emergency is by naming and establishing a health care proxy.

A health care proxy is a legal document that allows individuals (or each individual) to assign another person (or perhaps persons) to make health care decisions (for them) in case he or she is rendered incapable of revealing their own wishes in this regard. Basically, the health care proxy has the same rights to request or refuse treatment that the individual (who assigned him or her) would have had should they have still been able to make and communicate wishes and decisions.

The written instrument which names the other person, more commonly known as the agent, to make health care decisions (for the person rendered incapable), becomes operative only when the individual (who assigned the agent) becomes incapacitated (as per professional determination and opinion) and unable to understand the nature and consequences of health care decisions.

The New York Health Care Proxy Law allow individuals to appoint a trusted friend or relative to serve as their voice (of reason) taking charge and making all necessary medical decisions for them in the event they lose their ability to do so (personally). And, other than a will, clearly outlining and defining (in detail) all you wishes, it is the only way to let health care providers (and perhaps family members) know your desires (in serious situations) and ensure that they abide by you wishes.

Your agent is also able to decide how your wishes apply to your medical condition changes. Hospitals, doctors, and other health care providers (as well as family members) cannot contest the instructions and decisions of the agent and must follow and respect them as if they were your own. In drawing up a health care proxy you can give the agent (person you put in charge) as much or as little authority as you want. You can allow him or her to make ALL health care decisions or only certain ones, and/or only with regards to your specific (pre-arranged and documented) instructions. You can even use this document to state specific intentions and to document your wishes or instructions with regard to “final” decisions and/or organ and tissue donation.

Health care proxies (much like wills or other legal documents) may be revised (and should be should you or as you have a change of heart about issues or your agent and his or her authority). Remember, while health care proxies help you help yourself, even when you physically and mentally can’t, they are (up until that point) not set in stone, and in your control; and in fact you can even revoke a Health Care Proxy verbally or in writing.

Following are some more important facts about health care proxies that you should clearly and fully understand

1. This form gives the person you choose as your agent the authority to make all health care decisions for you, including the decision to remove or provide life-sustaining treatment, unless you say otherwise in this form. "Health care" means any treatment, service or procedure to diagnose or treat your physical or mental condition.
2. Unless your agent reasonably knows your wishes about artificial nutrition and hydration (nourishment and water provided by a feeding tube or intravenous line), he or she will not be allowed to refuse or consent to those measures for you.
3. Your agent will start making decisions for you when your doctor determines that you are not able to make health care decisions for yourself.
4. You may write on this form examples of the types of treatments that you would not desire and/or those treatments that you want to make sure you receive. The instructions may be used to limit the decision-making power of the agent. Your agent must follow your instructions when making decisions for you.
5. You do not need a lawyer to fill out this form.
6. You may choose any adult (18 years of age or older), including a family member or close friend, to be your agent. If you select a doctor as your agent, he or she will have to choose between acting as your agent or as your attending doctor because a doctor cannot do both at the same time. Also, if you are a patient or resident of a hospital, nursing home or mental hygiene facility, there are special restrictions about naming someone who works for that facility as your agent. Ask staff at the facility to explain those restrictions.
7. Before appointing someone as your health care agent, discuss it with him or her to make sure that he or she is willing to act as your agent. Tell the person you choose that he or she will be your health care agent. Discuss your health care wishes and this form with your agent. Be sure to give him or her a signed copy. Your agent cannot be sued for health care decisions made in good faith.
8. If you have named your spouse as your health care agent and you later become divorced or legally separated, your former spouse can no longer be your agent by law, unless you state otherwise. If you would like your former spouse to remain your agent, you may note this on your current form and date it or complete a new form naming your former spouse.
9. Even though you have signed this form, you have the right to make health care decisions for yourself as long as you are able to do so, and treatment cannot be given to you or stopped if you object, nor will your agent have any power to object.
10. You may cancel the authority given to your agent by telling him or her or your health care provider orally or in writing.
11. Appointing a health care agent is voluntary. No one can require you to appoint one.
12. You may express your wishes or instructions regarding organ and/or tissue donation on this form.
And, below is a link to an official New York State Health Care Proxy Form that you can use to name your agent, his/her authority and your intentions and wishes.

Long Island Family Life & Parenting Articles > In Case Of Emergency: The Importance Of Having A Health Care Proxy

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