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Health Care Proxy

This is a transcript of the video Health Care Proxy. This video is part of a five-part series that describes Advance Directives, which document your decisions about your medical care in the event that you cannot speak for yourself in the future.

Click here to view the video.

Narrator:

A Health Care Proxy is for everyone, at any time. Some think you automatically are giving someone else control over your healthcare options, but this is not the case at all.

You don’t turn over your medical care to someone else, but rather you designate someone of your choosing to make decisions for you if you become unable to make decisions on your own.

It's simply this: if you are not able to make healthcare decisions on your own, who do you trust to make the decisions for you? Your agent becomes you voice and it could be anyone. This is your decision.

Christina Fineberg, Director of Social Work, McAuley Residence:

Anything can happen at any given time. You don't have to be going into a facility for long-term care. You don't have to be going into a facility for comfort care.

It's so important to have an Advance Directive completed, a Health Care Proxy Agent chosen – it doesn't have to be a family member. It can be a friend. It can be clergymen, a co-worker – just as long as they're over 18 years old.

Stephen J. Evans, MD, Medical Director, Continuing Care:

I recommend Health Care Proxys for everybody over the age of 18. Not because they're likely to die any time soon but simply because it's the only way that we can have, as patients, to specify what we do or don't want in a way that helps protect us and potentially protects our families too, because families struggle terribly with these decisions often. So, any kind of guidance that a patient or resident can leave for them, give them, helps a lot to reduce anxiety and the worry that comes with making these decisions. 

Narrator:

When is the best time to fill out a Health Care Proxy form? The best answer to that is right now!

In a Health Care Proxy, you choose an agent. Your agent is your spokesperson and medical decision maker. When you choose your agent, there are a few things you should consider:

  • First, he or she must be over 18.
  • The agent should live close or should be able to easily get to where you are.
  • Your agent should understand what's important to you and know what your wishes are.
  • And your agent should be able to listen to you, and work and communicate with family and medical personnel.

Stephen J. Evans, MD, Medical Director, Continuing Care:

When a person is deciding to fill out a Health Care Proxy, it's critically important that he or she choose the person most to follow the directions. I can't tell you how many times in practice, I see families where the oldest child has been chosen as the agent, and in fact, at the time when the decisions are necessary, is almost unable to follow the directions that their mother or father has set out for him or her to follow. So, it's critical to choose the person – even if it's a younger child or maybe someone that the other kids might not like as well – the critical issue is choosing the person that can follow your wishes.

In some families, all the kids or the spouse believe that they can't do without the patient or resident. And so they all will say, "I will never make a decision not to do anything that's available."

If the patient or resident is serious about not having everything done (tube feedings and intubations, machines and so on), it's critical to choose somebody else, even if it means choosing a best friend or a minister – somebody who knows your wishes and whom you believe will reliably carry them out under the pressure of your impending death. It's a lot of pressure. It's a hard situation. 

You want somebody who's calm under pressure and again, whom you can rely on to follow your directions. 

Narrator:

A Health Care Proxy form can look like this (see video). We recommend that you use a standard form, just so there are no questions later and your wishes are clearly stated.

You don't need a lawyer or a notary. Just two witnesses, 18 years of age or older, who must sign the form.

Please remember that the person who is appointed as your agent or alternate agent cannot sign as a witness.

Is a Health Care Proxy forever? No, not at all.

If there is one really important thing to know about a Health Care Proxy, it is that who you choose to act in your best interests, called your agent, must be someone you know would make the decisions as you would wish. They are acting on your behalf and that is why it is so very, very important that you and your agent talk (and talk a lot) about what kind of care you think you want.

Rev. Dale Stanley, MDiv, BCC, Manager of Spiritual Care, Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus:

I do like to tell people that Health Care Proxy is the easiest legal form you can ever fill out. You don't have to go to an attorney to do it. You can do it in the privacy of your own living room. You can do it with us in the hospital. You can get the form on the internet.

It's a very powerful piece of paper because it's important legally, but it doesn't have to be difficult to fill out.

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