One of the questions I get all the time is about health care proxies. At Copley at Stoughton, we encourage our residents to talk about serious medical issues and/or end-of-life issues with their family members. This can be difficult, but it’s necessary to ensure that your wishes are followed. Designating a legal health care proxy is an important part of that conversation.
But who should be your health care proxy and the alternate health care proxy? Side note: You should consider having your health care proxy and your power of attorney be the same person.
First, an explanation about what a health care proxy does: You can designate anyone you wish to be your health care proxy to make health care decisions for you in case you are not able to make decisions yourself. You will also need to designate an alternate if your health care proxy is unwilling or unable to make decisions for you. You’ll discuss with your health care proxy things like:
• Do you want to be resuscitated (CPR for example) if you have a heart attack or stop breathing?
• Do you want advanced life support systems if necessary to keep you alive?
• Will you want certain decisions made based on your religious beliefs?
As you can imagine, there are many practical, yet emotionally charged issues to consider.
I’ve learned it’s not always clear who in the family should be a health care proxy. A spouse may be the obvious choice, but not always. Some realize that their spouse may be too overwhelmed themselves to think clearly enough and make decisions. There are cases too when their spouse has passed on or is otherwise unavailable.
The next obvious choice is someone in the family. However, it can be difficult to identify one particular family member. Will the person you choose be willing – and able – to follow your wishes? And perhaps equally important, will a person you don’t choose be offended? It’s essential that everyone in the family gets on the same page to choose the right health care proxy.
You can also consider people outside the family if you wish. A long-term partner, a friend, or another loved one – you can name anyone you like to be your health care proxy. This document overrides all other relationships when it comes to making health care decisions for you.
In Massachusetts, it’s easy – and free – to register your health care proxy. You can find out information and fill in the state form here: http://www.massmed.org/Patient-Care/Health-Topics/Health-Care-Proxies-and-End-of-Life-Care/Health-Care-Proxy-Information-and-Forms/#.XYk6_lVKiHt
But the most important thing is to make it a family conversation – and let everyone know your wishes. It can be a difficult discussion, but it will make things easier for everyone in the long run. Feel free to call me if you have any other questions.