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Considering a Healthcare Directive

by Betty Soldz

Although we all hope to live a long and healthy life, unexpected things can happen to us. Perhaps we are injured in an accident or unexpectedly become terminally ill. Wouldn't we want to have control over our treatment? Wouldn't we want to know who will make decisions about our health care when we are unable to?

No matter what our age we need to plan for unexpected emergencies when we are unable to state our healthcare decisions. We can learn about options, plan ahead and take practical steps to assure our choices are carried out. Some of us want all medical technology available used to prolong our life but others do not. Some of us are more concerned about the amount of pain control available or have other healthcare issues. Each of us has a right to accept or refuse medical care and to say whether we wish our lives to end within or outside of a hospital. To prepare for such a time and be sure our wishes are carried out we can name a Healthcare Agent (Proxy) and sign a Health Care Directive.

Healthcare proxies and Health Care Directives may be called by several names such as: Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare and Advance Medical Directive. The names may differ by state. A Durable Power of Attorney for Health, which in some states is called a Health Care Proxy form, is a simple legal document that allows you to name someone you know and trust to make healthcare decisions for you if, for any reason and at any time, you become unable to make or communicate those decisions. Such a document may, or may not, incorporate a Health Care Directive (Living Will) which allows you to state your healthcare wishes if you become terminally ill.

The person you appoint (your proxy) to make health care decisions for you can only make decisions about your health care when you are unable to do that for yourself. This means your agent can act for you if you are temporarily unconscious, in a coma, or have some other condition in which you cannot make or communicate health care decisions. In some states, your agent cannot act for you until your doctor determines, in writing, that you lack the ability to make your own health care decisions. Most forms allow you to name an alternate agent. If your first agent is unavailable you still will still have someone to make healthcare decisions when you cannot.

Acting as your agent, the person you have named will make health care decisions that you would if you were able. Your wishes can best be followed if you also fill out a Health Care Directive (Living Will) which is a document in which you give instructions about the health care you would desire under particular circumstances. You can give instructions in this document for the kind of health care you do and do not want.

The laws on such documents may differ by state so it is important that you get a form in your own state. Such documents are available at any hospital, from attorneys, and even from some state Bar Associations. If your form does not include a Health Care Directive, write down your wishes and attach it to the Health Care Proxy form. Be sure the witness to your Health Care Proxy also signs this document.

No matter what your choices are, they should be in writing. It is best if they are in legal form and accessible to all those who may be involved in your care. In some states you just need the form witnessed, in others, you need to have it notarized. In some states you need to have the person you named as your proxy sign it also. A copy should be given to your physician for your medical file and at that time you might ask if he/she would have any problem honoring it.

A copy of your documents should be given to your Health Care Proxy and alternate proxy and you should discuss your health care wishes with him or her to be sure they are comfortable honoring your wishes. If not, you might want to consider different proxies. Lastly, put the original form in a place it can easily be found.

Your healthcare proxy can be revoked should you desire to do so. You can cancel the document by writing a new one, by notifying your healthcare providers that you want to revoke your proxy or you can destroy all copies of the proxy.

Once you have made these decisions and filled out the forms, apprehensions about your health toward the end of life will be reduced and you can then use your energy to enjoy life.


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