A Health Care Power of Attorney, also called a Health Care Proxy or Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, lets you give legal authority to another person (a proxy or agent) to make decisions about your health care if you are unable to make them yourself. This prevents the courts from getting involved if there is disagreement between family members and/or the medical community as to what actions you would want taken.
Keep in mind that you will continue to make decisions about your care for as long as you are able. You are only naming someone as a successor, to step in and act for you when you cannot. This document can be valuable even for short periods of time, such as if you are recovering from surgery.
But it is more associated with end-of-life decisions. The person you name as your agent or proxy may make decisions that will extend your life for as long as possible or bring your earthly life to an end. These decisions may include whether or not you should have surgery, if life support should be initiated, and/or if nutrition should be stopped. The legal document includes your wishes on these and other end-of-life issues.
This is a difficult subject for some people to even think about, but it is important that you do, and that you discuss these matters with your physician, family members and friends. The more people who know about your preferences, the easier it will be for your agent/proxy to carry out your instructions. Of course, you might change your mind over time, so let others (especially your agent/proxy) know what you are thinking.
Whom should you name as your agent/proxy? Here are some considerations:
- Most people name a family member, but you can also name a trusted friend.
- It should be someone who knows you well, respects your wishes and will follow your instructions.
- It might bring you some comfort if this person shares your values about faith, life and death.
- You should name more than one person in case your first choice is unable to act. But list them in the order you want them to serve. This would give your agent/proxy others with whom to consult and discuss options, but you want one person (not a committee) making the final decisions.
- Consider your candidates’ personalities and emotional make up, and whether they would be able to handle the responsibility.
If you have been asked to be someone’s agent/proxy, consider carefully if you would be able to follow his/her wishes when that time comes. Most people consider it an honor to be asked, knowing this person has chosen you to have his or her life in your hands.