Hospitals often give patients a health care proxy form to sign on being admitted. While signing a generic health care proxy form is better than not signing one at all, these documents vary in the amount of care that has gone into their drafting, and having one that is specifically tailored to your needs can be important.
A health care proxy allows you to appoint someone else to act as your agent for medical decisions. In general, a health care proxy takes effect only when you require medical treatment and a physician determines that you are unable to communicate your wishes concerning what that treatment should be. Appointing someone to serve as your agent helps ensure that your medical treatment instructions will be carried out.
While a health care proxy serves to appoint an agent to speak for you, you can also use it to give the agent guidance about your medical wishes. Following are some issues that can be addressed in a health care proxy:
- The name of the person authorized to act for you. It is good to appoint an alternate as well.
- The kind of treatment you do or don't want if you are terminally ill, in a coma, or have brain damage with no hope of recovery. For example, do you want feeding tubes, resuscitation, dialysis, or blood transfusions?
- Whether or not you want to be kept alive by machines if you are in a persistent vegetative state.
- Under what circumstances you want pain medication to be administered.
- Whether you want to donate your organs.
- Whether you want to be cremated or buried and where and how your remains should be disposed of.
Whatever choices you make, you should take time to consider your health care wishes before signing a health care proxy. For this reason, signing a generic hospital form may not a good idea, as many of these forms will not take your individual wishes into account. However, this is not true for all forms used by hospitals. For example, hospitals and other health care facilities in Massachusetts use an excellent proxy form that was developed by a interdisciplinary committee that included Chatham, Mass., ElderLawAnswers member Russell E. Haddleton.
Also bear in mind that if you already have a health care proxy as a part of your estate plan, the generic form will revoke your more personal health care proxy.
A qualified attorney can help you create a document that addresses your particular situation.
For more information on health care decisions, click here.