Without warning, serious illness or injury may strike, leaving people unable to make medical decisions for themselves. Who will speak up for them when they cannot give voice to their wishes? As part of their estate plans, many people create advance care directives, which may include naming a health care proxy.
Choosing someone to speak for you when incapacitating illness or injury keeps you from speaking for yourself places substantial power in the selected agent’s hands. It is worthwhile to review the following questions before selecting an agent and drafting your health care proxy.
When does a health care proxy’s authority begin?
According to the New York State attorney general, when doctors assess patients as incapacitated, the decision-making power of the named health care proxy takes effect. The authority of health care agents ends when the patient (principal) regains his or her capacity, or on an expiration date set by the principal or when the principal specifies the authority should terminate.
What authority do health care agents have to make decisions?
Health care agents have several rights and responsibilities to principals to act on their behalf. This includes making decisions on matters such as the following:
- The use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation
- The administration of artificial nutrition or hydration
- The administration of pain management medications
- Receiving hospice or palliative care
Through their health care proxy forms, people may limit the decisions their named agents can make on their behalf if they so choose.
Can health care agents overrule patients’ wishes?
According to the New York State Department of Health, health care proxies must make any decisions per the principals’ instructions or discussed preferences. With few exceptions, health care agents cannot override the patients’ wishes.
No one wants to think about their mortality, especially if they have good health. However, making plans for the unexpected will help ensure their wishes are carried out, if they cannot voice them for themselves.