Health Care Proxy — What’s In a Name?

When it comes to healthcare documents, it’s easy to get confused. Many of our clients are not clear about the differences between health care proxies and durable powers of attorney, or about why you might need both a living will and a health care proxy. These are some of the questions we will attempt to answer here, though we recommend that in order to have in-depth clarification, it is best for you to contact one of our health care proxy attorneys.

Why Everyone Needs a Health Care Proxy

Your health care proxy is best designated early in your adult life since no one knows when they may become (temporarily or permanently) incapacitated by:

  • Catastrophic accident
  • Sudden medical event (stroke, aneurysm, heart attack) 
  • Degenerative illness (Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, other dementia).
  • Delirium (a state of extreme disorientation and confusion) resulting from severe injury or illness, mineral depletion, dehydration, medication, high fever, alcohol or drug abuse

At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., we are well-equipped to prepare and put in place a health care proxy to protect you if you lose your ability to communicate your wishes. This is an essential step to take once you are over the age of 18 if you want to maintain a measure of control over crucial medical decisions that may preserve your life or contribute to your quality of life.

What purpose will your health care proxy serve?

Massachusetts, unlike other states, does not automatically give your spouse, children, or parents the legal right to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so. Rather, Massachusetts law requires that only a court-appointed health care proxy can speak for you if you cannot speak for yourself. 

The health care proxy you have named will be able to:

  • Authorize or refuse treatments or procedures according to your stated wishes
  • Consult with your medical team, review your medical chart
  • Ask questions regarding treatment decisions
  • Request second opinions.
  • Authorize the transfer to another doctor or healthcare setting
  • Ensure that those decisions are compatible with your wishes.

You Needn’t Worry About Losing Your Rights

Remember, naming an individual as your health care proxy is a designation that activates only if you become incapacitated. No one, not even a trusted person you have named as your health care proxy, can override your right to make your own medical decisions when you are conscious and alert.

A Health Care Proxy Is Not the Only Document You Need

As estate planning attorneys, we are dedicated to ensuring that our clients are prepared for any and all potential scenarios, so the health care proxy is by no means the only medical document we recommend. In order to make it clear to your healthcare agent what your wishes are if you become incapacitated, we advise that you also have a:

  • Advance Directive (or, a Living Will): Although it is not legally binding in Massachusetts, it provides guidance for clinicians and family members, stating which actions you do or do not want taken at the end of your life (e.g. intubation, insertion of a feeding tube)
  • Organ donation document (if desired), stating your desire to donate an organ 

or tissue for purposes of transplantation, research, or education

legal, business, and financial transactions if you are unable to do so

  • Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) if at some point at the end of your life, 

you don’t want to be revived after a catastrophic medical event

Although the older you get, the greater the chance that your health care proxy will be put to use, there is no downside to signing such a document while you are young. Doing so may well save you from painful procedures, enable you to receive better medical care than you otherwise would, and keep strangers from making decisions that do not take your personal wishes into account. Be proactive and contact our skilled health care proxy attorneys now.