An Advance Directive for Health Care lets you give authority to another person (a proxy) to decide about your health care if you cannot make the decision yourself. This prevents the courts from getting involved if there is disagreement between family members and/or the medical community what actions you would want taken.
Remember that you will continue to decide about your care for as long as you are able. You are only naming someone as a successor, to step in and act for you when you cannot. This document can be valuable even for short periods of time, such as if you are recovering from surgery.
But it is more associated with end-of-life decisions. The person you name as your proxy may decide that will extend your life for as long as possible or bring your earthly life to an end. These decisions may include whether or not you should have surgery, if life support should be initiated, and/or if nutrition should be stopped. The legal document includes your wishes on these and other end-of-life issues.
This is a difficult subject for some people to even think about, but it is important that you do, and that you discuss these matters with your physician, family members and friends. The more people who know about your preferences, the easier it will be for your proxy to carry out your instructions. You might change your mind over time, so let others (especially your proxy) know what you are thinking.
Whom should you name as your proxy? Here are considerations:
- Most people name a family member, but you can also name a trusted friend.
- It should be someone who knows you well, respects your wishes and will follow your instructions.
- It might bring you some comfort if this person shares your values about faith, life and death.
- Name more than one person in case your first choice cannot act. But list them in the order you want them to serve. This would give your proxy others with whom to consult and discuss options, but you want one person (not a committee) making the final decisions.
- Consider your candidates’ personalities and emotional make up, and whether they could handle the responsibility.
If you have been asked to be someone’s proxy, consider carefully if you could follow his/her wishes when that time comes. Most people consider it an honor to be asked, knowing this person has chosen you to have his or her life in your hands.