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What is a health care proxy?

Life is full of surprises. While people plan out most significant life events, there are certain things that we can't plan for. Nobody can plan a medical emergency.

When something serious happens, whether it's a car crash, appendicitis or something else, you need to make immediate decisions to get the best treatment. If you haven't planned ahead, medical professions will act in your best interests. While they mean well, their choices might not be the same as what you would do. Many medical emergencies result in unconscious or incapacitated states where you can't speak your mind.

Who will speak on your behalf?

A health care proxy is a legal agreement where you assign somebody to make your medical decisions when you cannot. It is only effective when a medical professional determines you can't speak for yourself. This might mean a temporary situation when a patient is under anesthesia, or it can be more permanent--for example if an elderly individual suffers from dementia or Alzheimer's. Your proxy has the legal right to make decisions about how to proceed when you need treatment.

Your appointed proxy speaks for you, but with restrictions. A proxy can choose treatment types and deny procedures that you disapprove of, but they cannot make decisions about nutrition and hydration (such as feeding tubes) without getting your prior input. In other words, a health care proxy will speak for you, but you need to discuss your preferences with your proxy to get the best results.

Protecting your beliefs

A living will is a similar but different document for making specific medical treatment decisions. Many people will create both a living will and health care proxy to ensure that they get the treatment methods they prefer.

Medical decisions can determine length and quality of life. Everyone has different beliefs and preferences in these situations. If you have strong feelings that may not align with a medical expert's interpretation of "best interests," the best step you can take is to designate a health care proxy and have a detailed conversation with him or her about your wishes.

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Olga Berdé Mahl & Associates

New Rochelle Office
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Phone: 917-723-6097
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