Health Care Proxies: preparing as best you can

There are not many things that can be controlled in life. As much planning as you may try to do, each day is full of surprises. While we only hope for good surprises in life, there are moments that are not so great. If you were in an accident tomorrow and were rendered incapable of expressing what treatments you do/do not agree to, what would you do? In New York, medical professionals usually go by the rule that unless otherwise directed, they are to keep you alive by any means possible.

While this seems like a good mantra, many patients have specific health guidelines they prefer their medical professionals to follow. For example, many religions do now allow blood-transfusions, even if it means the difference between life and death. Others prefer to die naturally rather than being kept alive artificially only to prolong the inevitable death from the illness/injury.

In these cases, without the patient’s ability to communicate these wishes (as is the case with patients who are either unconscious or rendered incompetent) the medical professionals are left to make these very personal decisions for the patient.

Health Care proxies allow individuals to appoint an agent to whom medical professionals consult with when medical treatment decisions need to be made. In New York, a standard Health Care Proxy (HCP) form can be prepared and given to all health care professionals (rather than completing a different form at every doctor’s office and hospital). The HCP form outlines the medical preferences of the individual (i.e. being kept on life support), as well as allows the individual to choose one or more persons that medical professionals must refer to when the individual is unable to express his or her medical preferences/needs.

It is important to notify any person you have appointed as an HCP agent to make sure that he or she understands your wishes and what you would and would not agree to medically. The person you appoint as your agent should be somebody you trust and who knows you well enough to make these difficult decisions on your behalf, should the situation come up. While every effort should be made to make sure any specific wishes you may have regarding any medical treatment are covered in the HCP, there may arise a situation that was not included in the HCP. In cases like these, it is important that the agent being consulted knows and understands you well enough to make decisions about these unforeseen circumstances.