You can have some control over your medical decisions even if, one day, you cannot make or communicate those choices for yourself. You will have to create legal documents ahead of time to have a say in your treatment. One such paper is a health care proxy. This article answers the question, How does a health care proxy work?
Health Care Proxy
A health care proxy is a document in which you select someone to make your medical decisions if you cannot. This person does not have the right to make choices for you against your will. The document is only effective, when you cannot make decisions or communicate them. As soon as you are able, once more, to make your medical choices and communicate those wishes, the person named as your proxy has no authority.
Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions
A “durable power of attorney for health care decisions” is the same thing as a “health care surrogate,” “durable medical power of attorney,” or a “health care proxy.” The person you appoint will make the health care decisions for you, if you cannot do so.
Medical Records Release
You should include a medical records release and authorization with your proxy, allowing the person you appoint as your medical decision-maker to talk with your doctors and read your medical records. Without a release and authorization, your decision-maker will have to make health care decisions for you without knowing about your medical history and underlying conditions. Having to make decisions for another person without this information, is foolish and could be dangerous.
Another option is a living will. This term does not get used as often as the proxy or health care power of attorney, because people often confuse a “living will” with a “living trust.” A living will tells your doctor and hospital which life-sustaining treatments you want and which ones you do not want. A living trust is a document that distributes your assets after you die.
These documents can tie the hands of your doctors and loved ones from being able to act in your best interests. Let’s say you have a living will that says you do not want to be on life support. You get into a car crash and sustain severe injuries.
If the doctors can put you into a medically-induced coma for a few days, the swelling in your brain can go down and prevent permanent brain damage. You would be on life support during those days. Your living will prohibits them from doing so, and you develop cognitive impairment and have difficulty speaking and walking for the rest of your life.
Do Not Resuscitate Order
Sometimes a person does not want to be resuscitated, in the event he stops breathing. This situation usually happens when a person has an incurable medical condition and has suffered for a long time. Be sure you understand the consequences of this document before you sign it. You can always revoke a “do not resuscitate” (DNR) form., as long as you have the legal capacity to do so. You should talk with your doctor and close loved ones, if you contemplate signing this document.
Your state might have different regulations than the general law of this article. You should talk with an elder law attorney near you.
ABA. “Living Wills, Health Care Proxies, & Advance Health Care Directives.” (accessed December 19, 2019) https://www.americanbar.org/groups/real_property_trust_estate/resources/estate_planning/living_wills_health_care_proxies_advance_health_care_directives/