November 22nd, 2013 by Jenna N. Schmidt, Esq.
The Importance of Having a Health Care Proxy
What is a Health Care Proxy?
A Health Care Proxy (HCP) is a person (known as the “agent”) that you have designated to make health care decisions on your behalf when you are unable to make those decisions yourself. A HCP is appointed by a document of the same name. It is an inexpensive legal document that your agent will present to medical care providers in order to consent to medical treatment and care, such as surgery, rehabilitation services or nursing home placement.
When Would I Need a Health Care Proxy?
If you are deemed incompetent and therefore, you cannot give informed consent, medical care providers will require a HCP or a guardian to give that informed consent on your behalf. Incapacity can stem from a variety of medical issues and complications. It can be the result of a car accident, traumatic brain injury or coma; or can develop overtime as the result of increasing dementia or Alzheimer’s. No matter what your age, you should have a HCP.
Why is a HCP Important?
If you do not have a HCP and you have been deemed unable to make decisions on your own behalf, your medical providers will require that you have a guardian (appointed by a court) who is authorized to make those health care decisions on your behalf. This is an extremely expensive and time-consuming process. Not only does it cost thousands of dollars to have a guardian appointed as the result of legal fees, it can take weeks before a guardian is appointed. This can result in delays to receiving needed care. For example, it may delay needed surgery, or discharge from the hospital into a rehabilitation facility. Instead of receiving the care or rehabilitation you may need, you will be forced to wait for the court to process your case and appoint a guardian on your behalf. Since time is of the essence when it comes to medical care and rehab, it is imperative to have a HCP document executed before the time comes when you may need it. Once the HCP is executed, the agent has immediate authority to consent to medical treatment on your behalf, should you become incompetent. However, if you are already deemed incompetent, you cannot execute a HCP.
Who Should I Choose as My Health Care Proxy?
You should choose someone who you trust and who knows your medical wishes. Typically, a family member or friend is chosen. It is also important to consider who you would want to be the “alternate” agent, should the first person you choose becomes unwilling or unable to serve as your health care proxy.
What if I Disagree with my Health Care Proxy’s Decision?
A HCP is supposed to make decisions that you would have made if you had capacity. However, if you lack capacity and disagree with your health care proxy’s decisions, a guardian may need to be appointed in order to act in your best interests.
How Can I Make Sure My HCP Respects My Wishes?
It is important to have an honest and open discussion with your HCP regarding your wishes. You may also consider executing a Living Will. This is a legal document which states your wishes regarding your medical treatment if you become unable to express them yourself. In this document, you may, for example, choose to request that you are not resuscitated if you are terminally ill are in an irreversible coma. Or you may request the opposite measures are taken. A Living Will can help the HCP ensure that your wishes are respected.