By Carol Barton

One of the most important legal documents that you should have before you need medical care is a health care proxy. Most of us are not eager to think about a future that involves a personal medical catastrophe; consequently, we don’t plan for such an event.

Consider for a moment what could happen if you suffered a major life threatening event resulting in you being unable to make medical decisions for yourself. Those decisions could end up in the hands of a doctor, an estranged family member or even a judge – none of whom know what treatment that you’d want, or not. If you are lucid when admitted to a hospital, a generic health care proxy form could be provided; however, it will not detail your exact wishes for medical treatment or end-of-life decisions.

Postponing signing a health care proxy until you are in a vulnerable situation and not thinking clearly, is rife with problems for you and your family members.

Planning for your medical and end-of-life choices now can improve your quality of life and bring peace of mind to you and your loved ones. Detailing your wishes for medical care in a health care proxy will ensure that medical treatment will echo your wishes. In developing your health care proxy, your attorney should include directives for your health care, appointing a health care agent and naming alternate agents.

Your Health Care Directives

When your wishes are not expressed in a concise manner, family members can become embroiled in bitter arguments. It is virtually impossible to know what a dying person’s wishes are unless they are listed in the proxy or have been discussed ahead of time with family and your health care agent. Health care wishes that you may want to consider and discuss with your named health care agent include:

  • The use of dialysis
  • Whether or not you want to be resuscitated
  • Do you want a feeding tube
  • Do you want morphine for pain relief or, even to end life
  • Would you want surgery performed which might or might not prolong life
  • Do you want to be a ventilator to be used for a short period or a long period of time
  • Whether you want to be intubated
  • Do you want to be an organ donor
  • Do you prefer to die at home –if possible
  • Do you want hospice care if you are suffering

 Your Health Care Agent

Your health care agent will have legal authority to make medical decisions for you if and when a doctor determines in writing, that you lack the ability to make health care decisions. Trust and ability to make hard decisions will be important in selecting your health care agent. You will want to choose someone you trust: your spouse, a family member or close friend. Additionally, be confident that the person you chose will be able to make difficult decisions and respect your wishes.

Your health care proxy is a work in process meaning that as circumstances change your directives can be revoked or replaced at any time – as long as you are capable of making your own decisions. You should review your proxy every two years or sooner as your situation dictates. Getting advice from an attorney, who specializes in estate planning and elder law, will ultimately put you in control of your own health care decisions.

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