Durable power of attorney for health care; Health care proxy
A health care agent is someone you choose to make health care decisions for you when you cannot.
A health care agent is also called a health care proxy. This person will act only when you are not able to.
When you are unable to speak for yourself due to an illness, your health care providers may be unclear as to what type of care you would like.
Your family members may be uncertain or disagree about the type of medical care you should receive. Decisions about your medical care may then be made by doctors, hospital administrators, a court-appointed guardian, or judges.
A health care agent, chosen by you, can help your health care providers, family, and friends make decisions during a stressful time.
Your agent's duty is to see that your wishes are followed. If your wishes are not known, your agent should try to decide what you want.
Health care agents are not required. But they are the best way to be sure your wishes for health care treatment are followed.
If you have an advance directive or living will, your health care agent can make sure your wishes are followed. Your agent's choices come before anyone else's wishes for you.
If you do not have a living will or an advanced directive, your health care agent will be the one to help your health care providers make important choices.
Your health care agent has no control over your money.Your agent also cannot be made to pay your bills.
What a health care agent can and cannot do differs by state. Check your state laws. In most states, health care agents can:
Before you choose a health care agent, you should find out whether your state allows a health care agent to do the following:
Choose a person who knows your treatment wishes and is willing to carry them out. Be sure to tell your agent what is important to you.
Talk to each person you are thinking of naming as your agent or alternate. Do this before you decide who should carry out your wishes. Your agent should be:
In many states, your agent cannot be:
Think of your beliefs about life-sustaining treatment, which is the use of equipment to prolong your life when your body organs stop working well.
A health care proxy is a legal paper that you fill out. You can get a form online, at your doctor's office, hospital, or senior citizen centers.
A health care proxy is not a living will. A living will is a written statement that can include your health care wishes. Unlike a living will, the health care proxy allows you to name a health care agent to carry out those wishes if you cannot.
You can change your mind about health care choices at any time. If you do change your mind, or if your health changes, talk to your doctor. Be sure to tell your health care agent about any changes in your wishes.
Kapp MB. Ethical and legal issues. In: Duthie EH, Katz PR, Malone ML, eds. Practice of Geriatrics. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2007:chap 6.
Marchand LR. The plan of care. In: Walsh D, Caraceni AT, Fainsinger R, et al., eds. Palliative Medicine. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2008:chap 120.
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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