Core Document #3: A Health Care Proxy
A Health Care Proxy is a legal document that allows you to name someone you trust to make important health and medical decisions for you should you become incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself. This person is your “Health Care Agent.” Any individual over the age of 18 can be appointed as your health care agent; you can have more than one agent (e.g., your three children); and you can have alternate or successor agents. Successor agents would step in if your Health Care Agent is unable to act on your behalf when and if the need arises. The only exception to this rule is that you cannot appoint a health care facility administrator, operator, or employee unless they are in some way related to you.
Once your Health Care Proxy is in place, conversing with your health care agent(s) about your health and medical treatment preferences is crucial. Your health care agent will make decisions for you taking into account your wishes as you’ve relayed them to him or her and their understanding of your religious and moral beliefs. Therefore, s/he should know what treatments you would and would not wish to receive.
This includes your views on life-sustaining treatments. Make sure you know the long list of treatments that are considered “life-sustaining.” If you do not wish to have life-sustaining treatments like a machine to breathe for you, for example, do you wish to still have hydration (water to drink if you are thirsty or IV fluids)? It’s not always easy to make these decisions but it is worth spending some time reflecting on your end of life wishes in this area.
While you are able to communicate your wishes, you still call all the shots. You can even override anything that you have written in your Health Care Proxy (or Living Will) in case you change your mind.
Once your Health Care Proxy is written and executed, you should provide copies of the document to your health care agent(s), primary physician, and others who are important to your health care decision-making. Your Health Care Proxy should be signed in the presence of a notary public and two witnesses other than your health care agent and alternate agent.
In conjunction with your Health Care Proxy, you can also create a Living Will. While technically not binding in Massachusetts, a living will is a description of the medical care you wish to receive if you become incapable of speaking or in some way incapacitated. It can serve to capture the discussions you’ve had with your Health Care Agent about your wishes and can be a great reference point during what can be particularly stressful times.