A health care proxy is a document that gives another person the power to make health care decisions for you, should you ever become unable to make them for yourself. You may wish to include a medical directive as part of your health care proxy. A medical directive states what kinds of medical care you would want, and might also include specific directions about starting or stopping any life-sustaining treatment.

Should I have a health care proxy?

If an accident or an illness were to leave you in a condition that made it impossible for you to communicate what medical treatment you did or didn't want, a health care proxy would give someone you trust the legal right to make those decisions on your behalf. If there is any disagreement about how you should be treated, a health care proxy would put those arguments to rest-the person acting as your agent and the doctor would be required to follow the instructions in your proxy.

It is important to choose a person you know and trust to be your agent, since this person is going to act on your behalf in making important medical decisions. Before you create your health care proxy, be sure to discuss your wishes with the person you choose as your agent. They should be clear and in agreement with your medical decisions, especially when it comes to "heroic measures" or life-sustaining medical treatment.

How does a health care proxy work?

Your health care proxy goes into effect if you need medical treatment but are in a condition that makes you unable to communicate your wishes regarding treatment. If at any point you recover and are able to make your wishes known, then your health care proxy is set aside and the wishes you express in person have authority.

Make sure that the person you choose to act as your agent has a copy of the document. Your doctor should also have a copy with your medical records. You may even wish to keep a copy with you at all times in case of an emergency.

Creating a health care proxy

A health care proxy is a very personal document. You can write it alone, with people who are close to you, or with the person you have chosen to act on your behalf. Since health care proxy laws can vary slightly from state to state, you may wish to consult a legal expert to make sure your proxy is enforceable.

Things to include in a health care proxy:

  • State in your proxy that you are giving directions about your care to medical professionals, should you become incapacitated.
  • Express situations in which you want your proxy to go into effect (e.g., terminally ill or comatose with little chance of recovery).
  • List treatments you do not want (respirator, resuscitation, medicines, etc.).
  • Include the name and contact information of the person you have chosen to act on your behalf. You may also want to choose an alternate in case the first person is unavailable for any reason.
  • Discuss your wishes with this person and include in your proxy that you have had this conversation.
  • Have your health care proxy notarized.
  • Give a copy to your representative and to your doctor. You may even want to keep a copy with you at all times in case of emergency.

Additional resources:

Do Your Proxy: Create Your Advance Directive Documents Online

eHow: How to Write Your Own Health Care Proxy

Related Legal Guides:

Medical Power of Attorney

Power of Attorney

Living Will