Healthcare Proxy

What is a Healthcare Proxy?

A law, called the New York healthcare proxy law, allows you to appoint someone you trust - for example, a family member or close friend - to decide about treatment if you lose the ability to decide for yourself. You can appoint someone by signing a form called a Healthcare Proxy.

Why should I choose a healthcare agent?

Appointing an agent lets you control your medical treatment by:

  • allowing your agent to stop treatment when he or she decides that is what you would want or what is best for you under the circumstances
  • choosing one family member to decide about treatment because you think that person would make the best decisions or because you want to avoid conflict or confusion about who should decide
  • choosing someone outside your family to decide about treatment because no one in your family is available or because you prefer that someone other than a family member decide about your health care

How can I appoint a health care agent?

All competent adults can appoint a healthcare agent by signing a form called a Healthcare Proxy. You don't need a lawyer, just two adult witnesses.

What decisions can my healthcare agent make?

Unless you limit your healthcare agent's authority, your agent will be able to make any treatment decision that you could have made if you were able to decide for yourself. Your agent can agree that you should receive treatments, choose among different treatments, and decide that treatments should not be provided, in accord with your wishes and interests. If your health care agent is not aware of your wishes about artificial nutrition and hydration (nourishment and water provided by feeding tubes), he or she will not be able to make decisions about these measures. Artificial nutrition and hydration are used in many circumstances, and are often used to continue the life of patients who are in a permanent coma.

How will my healthcare agent make decisions?

You can write instructions on the proxy form. Your agent must follow your oral and written instructions, as well as your moral and religious beliefs. If your agent does not know your wishes or beliefs, your agent is legally required to act in your best interests.

Who will pay attention to my agent?

All hospitals, doctors and other health care facilities are legally required to obey the decisions by your agent. If a hospital objects to some treatment options (such as removing certain treatment) they must tell you or your agent IN ADVANCE.

What if my health care agent is not available when decisions must be made?

You can appoint an alternate agent to decide for you if your health care agent is not available or able to act when decisions must be made. Otherwise, healthcare providers will make treatment decisions for you that follow instructions you gave while you were still able to do so. Any instructions that you write on your Healthcare Proxy form will guide health care providers under these circumstances.

What if I change my mind?

It is easy to cancel the proxy, to change the person you have chosen as your health care agent, or to change any treatment instructions you have written on your Healthcare Proxy form. Just fill out a new form. In addition, you can require that the Healthcare Proxy expire on a specified date or if certain events occur. Otherwise, the Healthcare Proxy will be valid indefinitely. If you choose your spouse as your health care agent and you get divorced or legally separated, the proxy is automatically cancelled.

Can my healthcare agent be legally liable for decisions made on my behalf?

No. Your healthcare agent will not be liable for treatment decisions made in good faith on your behalf. Also, he or she cannot be held liable for costs of your care, just because he or she is your agent.

Is a Healthcare Proxy the same as a Living Will?

No. A Living Will is a document that provides specific instructions about health care treatment. It is generally used to declare wishes to refuse life-sustaining treatment under certain circumstances.

Where should I keep the proxy form after it is signed?

Give a copy to your agent, your doctor and any other family members or close friends you want. You can also keep a copy in your wallet or purse or use - a free, secure online service that allows you to store and retrieve your NYS Healthcare Proxy form and other advance directives.

What about the “Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment” (MOLST) document?

Individuals/patients have a right to make their own health care decisions. The “Medical Orders For Life-Sustaining Treatment” (MOLST) is a document designed to help health care providers honor the treatment wishes of their patients. It is a physician order form. The MOLST is not intended to replace an advance directive document (i.e., healthcare proxy form or living will).

The MOLST form was created by a multi-disciplinary community-wide panel of health care providers and consumers in the Rochester, NY area and is intended to give patients the opportunity to express their preferences with regard to cardiopulmonary resuscitation, mechanical intervention, and other life-sustaining treatment. The document was modeled after a similar form that has been in use for ten years in the state of Oregon, the POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment), and has been adapted for use in New York State where there are special legal and policy considerations guiding these decisions.

Appointing a Healthcare Agent is a serious decision. Make sure you talk about it with your family, close friends and your doctor. Do it in advance, not just when you are planning to enter the hospital.