• Language

What is a health care proxy? A health care proxy is a legal document that a person fills out, signs, and has witnessed by two other people. This document appoints someone of the person's choice to make health care decisions for him/her if he/she is unable to make the decisions. A proxy is a person who has been given authority to act as an agent for another person. On the proxy form, there are several blank lines where a person can make specific wishes known. All hospitals, doctors, and other health care facilities are legally bound to honor the decisions stated in the health care proxy.

Who should have a health proxy? Appointing a health care proxy is optional, but it is a good idea for anyone, no matter what age or general health condition, to have one. For persons with mental illness and their loved ones, this document can be especially helpful. It will give the individual a chance to make his or her wishes known. It is important that the document be signed when the person is doing well psychologically, so there won't be questions as to what the true wishes are. It can also ease the burden for loved ones who would otherwise have to make agonizing decisions, allowing them to follow the person's wishes.

Who can be a proxy? A proxy can be a family member, friend, partner, or other trusted person. It is very beneficial to have an alternate proxy named on the form, as well, in case the primary proxy is not available for some reason. It is extremely critical to sit down with the prospective proxy and alternate proxy to be sure that they will be able to follow the individual's wishes, should the proxy need to be used. Though it is not necessary, it is generally an excellent idea to have a proxy notarized at the time of completion. No lawyer is necessary to assign a proxy.

Where can I get a health care proxy? A proxy is a standardized form, available from all hospitals, on many health related web sites and from many physicians.

Why have a health care proxy? Without a health care proxy, a person's doctor may be required to provide medical treatment that that person would have ordinarily refused if he or she were able to do so. Such treatments could include artificial nutrition or hydration, a respirator, or CPR when terminally ill or comatose with no hope for recovery. The proxy will take effect only when the person becomes unable to make informed decisions, as determined by the doctor. Otherwise, the person retains complete autonomy over his or her decisions.

When does the health care proxy expire? The health care proxy does not expire until death, unless the person revokes the proxy or signs another one at a later date, naming another proxy. It is a person's right, however, to state a date, or specify an occurrence, that would nullify the proxy.

Who gets a copy of the proxy? When the health care proxy has been executed, copies should be sent to the physician, health care agent, alternate agent, lawyer, close family members, and to local hospitals for the person's medical record. It is also an excellent idea to carry a wallet card specifying the existence of the proxy and where copies can be found. If the medical caregivers do not know of the existence of the proxy during life-saving interventions, they will do all in their power to keep the person alive.

If you would like more information on health care proxies or to obtain a copy of a health care proxy, feel free to contact NAMI-NYS at 800-950-3228.