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April 16th is National Health Care Decisions Day; and a good time to recognize how important it is that you are able to make educated health care decisions. In the case that you are unable to do so, it is crucial to have designated a health care proxy.

What is a Health Care Proxy?

A health care proxy is a written agreement created by you, the “principle,” that designates a health care “agent” to make medical or health decisions if you are in some way unable to make them for yourself.

Since every person has the right to accept or decline medical care, it is essential to designate a proxy agent in the case that you are unable to communicate your personal wishes to healthcare providers.

Who Should Serve as My Health Care Proxy Agent?

Choosing someone who will carry out your potentially final wishes is something that should be given careful thought. You must be sure that that person will relay to health care providers the care you want and do not want to receive. It is important that they understand that they must make medical decisions based on your values, not theirs.

Talk to your loved one about how they feel about a variety of different situations that could arise so there won’t be any surprises if the time comes and they need to make a difficult decision.

It is advisable to designate a secondary agent as well just in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to act on your behalf.

How Do I Create a Health Care Proxy?

A health care proxy document must be filled out in writing and be witnessed by two people 18 years of age or older. If you are already in a hospital or nursing home, a staff member can be your witness, but not your agent.

When designating a proxy agent, you can decide whether your agent will be given specific instructions or given full authority to make all medical decisions.

Once you have signed the health care proxy document, it should be given or sent to every doctor that treats you, to your proxy agent, and to all of your immediate family members as well as anyone whom medical authorities are likely to contact if you have been involved in an emergency.

Does the Doctor Have to Honor My Health Care Proxy?

You alone have the right to accept or refuse medical treatment. It is the doctor’s responsibility to honor your right and obtain consent before providing treatment or care. If the doctor has an ethical or religious objection to you or your agent’s decision, the doctor is legally obligated to refer your case to another doctor that can honor you or your agent’s request.

When Does My Agent Have the Authority to Act for Me?

Only once your attending physician states in writing that you are no longer capable to make or communicate your own health care decisions does your proxy agent have the authority to act on your behalf.

Though these conversations may be difficult to have, it is important that you are prepared for any health care decision that comes your way. The best way to make sure your wishes will be fulfilled properly is to be prepared.

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