A healthcare proxy is a document (legal instrument) with which a patient (primary individual) appoints an agent to legally make healthcare decisions on behalf of the patient, when he or she is incapable of making and executing the healthcare decisions stipulated in the proxy. Once the health care proxy is effective, the primary individual continues making healthcare decisions as long as he or she is legally competent to decide.
The New York Health Care Proxy Law allows you to appoint someone you trust — for example, a family member or close friend – to make health care decisions for you if you lose the ability to make decisions yourself. By appointing a health care agent, you can make sure that health care providers follow your wishes. Everyone over the age of 18 needs to appoint a health care agent.
There are two situations in which a health care agent will be needed:
- Temporary inability to make health care decisions – no matter what your age is. For example, you are having an outpatient surgical procedure and are under general anesthesia. Something unexpected happens and a health care decision needs to be made. If you have a health care agent, since you are temporarily unable to make your own decisions, the health care agent may make the decision. Once you become conscious again, the health care agent would no longer have any authority to act;
- Permanent inability to make health care decisions – this would arise if you were comatose from a terminal illness, in a persistent vegetative state, suffered from an illness that left you unable to communicate or, if elderly, suffered from senile dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Under these circumstances you would obviously be unable to make your own health care decisions. If you don’t have a health care agent, all appropriate medical treatments will be provided to you. If you have appointed a health care agent, your health care agent can be your voice and make your health care decisions according to your own wishes, or your best interests.
Your agent can also decide how your wishes apply as your medical condition changes. Hospitals, doctors and other health care providers must follow your agent’s decisions as if they were your own. You may give the person you select as your health care agent as little or as much authority as you want. You may allow your agent to make all health care decisions or only certain ones. You may also give your agent instructions that he or she has to follow. A healthcare proxy can also be used to document your wishes or instructions with regard to organ and/or tissue donation.
Making decisions about how you want to live the remainder of your life and appointing the appropriate person to be your health care agent can be overwhelming. Contact our office for help. Our office has helped clients in Buffalo, Amherst, Lackawanna and the entire Western New York area in preparing their healthcare proxies.