The Importance of Health Care Proxies


A health care proxy is a legal document that designates another person, or agent, to make health care decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself. This form of an advance directive, also known as a durable power of attorney for health care, is a crucial device if you are in a situation in which you can no longer make medical decisions for yourself.

With a health care proxy, you share your wishes about your medical care, including termination of life support, in order for an agent to execute medical decisions when you no longer have the capacity to do so yourself. Your health agent will be the sole decision-maker in this process; thus, it is important to have honest and open conversations with your designated agent about what sort of medical and health care treatments you would desire in certain circumstances. It is this agent who will make sure those desires are met.

A health care proxy is not the same as a living will. With a living will, your medical and health care wishes are in writing. There is no agent to communicate your wishes. Instead, your words in writing outline what measures will be taken in your medical care.

Generally, it is advantageous to execute a health care proxy rather than a living will because the health agent is given broad powers that will be controlling when carrying out medical decisions. With a living will, if there is any ambiguity in the language used, there will be often be complications in interpreting the meaning of the language. With a health care proxy, there rarely are any such complications because the agent’s decisions will be final.

However, if you do not have someone to appoint as a health care agent, you should nevertheless consider a living will. Either advance directive is better than none at all.