Multiple problems may arise when an adult lacks capacity.  Do you remember Terri Schiavo and the 7 year court battle that her family had to endure to determine the proper course of her medical treatment? Much to the extreme surprise of relatives and close friends, unless certain documents were signed ahead of time, they are not entitled to make health care decisions for another individual. A Health Care Proxy is an effective tool to carry out a person’s wishes after incapacity. 

What is a Health Care Proxy? It is a document by means of which an adult individual appoints an Agent to make health care decisions for him if he is unable to do so. The Agent will act as a surrogate for the principal.

What is the Purpose of a Health Care Proxy? To insure that treatment and non-treatment decisions respect and honor the wishes of the principal.  Similar to the Power of Attorney, this document affords the principal a certain piece of mind.

Who Can Sign a Health Care Proxy? Any competent individual may appoint a health care agent.

How Long Does a Health Care Proxy Last? Unless there were any limitations inserted by the principal, a Health Care Proxy does not expire and lasts until the principal’s death.

Contents of a Health Care Proxy: the document contains the name of the principal, the designation of an agent and an alternate agent, statement of principal’s wishes and instructions regarding various types of treatment, and a statement of principal’s wishes regarding organ donation.

Who Can Be an Agent? Any competent individual over 18 years of age, as long as he is not the principal’s attending physician and not an employee of a hospital or a nursing home where the principal is a patient. Unlike a Power of Attorney, where multiple simultaneous agents can be appointed, only one Health Care Agent can be appointed. However, alternate agents can and should be named, in case the primary agent is not available.

You should ensure that your agent is 1. someone that you trust and 2. aware of your wishes regarding your treatment.

When Does an Agent’s Authority Begin? A Health Care Proxy becomes effective as soon as a physician determines that the individual is incapable of making health care decisions. As long as a person is competent, he is free to make his own decisions about his own treatment.