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  • Writer's pictureCook Tillman

What are health care proxies and what decisions do they make?

One of the most devastating calls someone can receive is one informing them that a loved one has suffered an illness or injury and is incapacitated. Seeing someone in that condition can be traumatic, and it can be very unsettling to be unable to communicate with that person.

This can create significant complications when it comes to making medical decisions for that person. To help your loved ones cope in this potential situation and make the choices you would make yourself, every adult should have a health care proxy.

A health care proxy is someone with the authority to make medical decisions on someone else’s behalf should that person be unable to express himself or herself. Decisions that your health care proxy may need to make include:

  1. Whether you should receive food or water intravenously to sustain life

  2. Whether doctors should use ventilators and other medical equipment to extend your life, even if they will not improve your condition

  3. Whether to withhold efforts to resuscitate you if you stop breathing or your heart stops

  4. Where you would like to receive end-of-life care (at home or in hospice, for instance)

To ensure your wishes on these and other matters are clear, you should discuss them with your proxy and explain your reasons behind your decisions. You will also want to document them in an advance care directive form, or living will, so that doctors and other parties can see clearly what your preferences are.

These can be difficult decisions to think about, but doing so now can prevent a lot of heartache and doubt in the future. Often, family members are highly emotional, exhausted and defensive in these situations, which makes it incredibly challenging to make rational decisions or come to any sort of consensus.

Providing the direction loved ones need in such devastating times can alleviate this pain and frustration. It can also help them cope with such a tragic incident and a potential loss if they know they are doing what you want.


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