Why You Should Have A Health Care Proxy

While most of us believe we will always be capable of making our own health care decisions, the truth for many of us is the opposite.  There may come a time when we won’t be able to express our own preferences about treatments we want or need.  Whether due to an unexpected accident, emergency, or at end of life, we each have the chance to find ourselves in a position when decisions need to be made on our behalf in a variety of medical situations.

It’s always good to prepare ahead for all cases, and that’s why an important piece of advance care planning is choosing a health care proxy—someone who can ensure you get the care you want and can make medical decisions for you.

For those of us that live in New York, and a health care proxy has not been designated prior to the time you need one, a “surrogate” will be chosen for you from an existing hierarchy of family members and friends. That hierarchy is:

  1. Court-appointed guardian
  2. Spouse or domestic partner
  3. Adult child
  4. Parent
  5. Adult sibling
  6. Close friend

Of course, every family and situation is different, so if you’d rather have someone in particular designated, such as a longtime best friend or a particular relative who you trust to make decisions on your behalf, it’s important to fill out the Health Care Proxy Form from the New York State Department of Health to ensure the person who you want as your proxy will be.

Not sure who you should pick as your health care proxy? Well, there are a few things to consider.  For starters, it’s not generally recommended that you choose your health care provider, someone else responsible for your care, or a professional evaluating your ability to make decisions.  Next, you should ask yourself a few questions about each person you’re considering: Am I comfortable talking with this person about my wishes and priorities for health care?  Will this person honor my wishes?  Do I trust this person with my life?  Can this person handle conflicting opinions from family, friends and health care providers?  Does this person live near me or would they travel to be with me if needed?

Keep in mind that how much control your proxy has is up to you.  For example, you can designate some types of decisions to be made by your doctor on your behalf.  Additionally, you can require your proxy talk with certain family members before making certain decisions.  You can also name an alternative proxy if your proxy is unavailable for any reason.  Once you’ve chosen your proxy and completed the form linked above, it’s best to share your current care preferences and to keep your proxy(s) informed if anything changes.

Caregiver & Family