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medical decisions

Everyone Needs a Healthcare Proxy

Regardless of the time of life, it's vital to understand everyone’s wishes in an emergency.

Everyone needs a health care proxy, including guardians themselves. Each member of the family should have a health care proxy that allows someone to make medical decisions if they fall ill. Sometimes called a durable medical power of attorney or an advanced directive, the proxy designates a person who can determine what the patient would have wanted if they were able to talk with their clinicians about their care.

Health care proxies aren’t for day-to-day medical decisions. They only cover those times when the patient is physically or cognitively unable to make medical care decisions. For example, hospitals often require evidence of a proxy when a person has surgery under anesthesia. In this case, the proxy is only in effect for the time the person is unconscious. Once they wake up and can communicate, they regain the ability to make their health care decisions.

Lisa Nowinski, PhD, of the MGH Lurie Center for Autism, explains some of the key issues around medical decision making:

Lisa Nowinski PhD, Director of Non-Clinical Care, MGH Lurie Center for Autism

Every state is different

Proxy forms vary from state to state but often include:

  • Medical treatment preferences for palliative care or life-support measures that involves breathing and feeding devices.

  • Designating a second person as a back-up proxy in the event the primary proxy is unavailable.

  • Religious beliefs.

Health care proxy forms are available from state websites and many hospitals have them, too. They do not require lawyers or notaries, but they must be signed by witnesses.

Example of Massachusetts Health Care Proxy form.

Example of Texas Medical Power of Attorney form.

Example of California Advanced Care Directive Form.

Medicare provides useful information and links for understanding advanced directives.

When it comes to end of life care, it’s possible that other supports may need of be put in place. Senior Solutions outlines some of the options.