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HEALTH CARE PROXY

WHAT IS A HEALTH CARE PROXY?

A Health Care Proxy is a simple legal document that allows you to name someone you know and trust to make health care decisions for you if, and only if, you are unable to make or communicate those decisions yourself. 

The person you name can act for you if you are temporarily unconscious, in a coma, or have some other condition so that you cannot make or communicate health care decisions. 

Under the Massachusetts Health Care Proxy Law (Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 201D) any adult may execute a Health Care Proxy and appoint a Health Care Agent.


WHEN SHOULD I SIGN A HEALTH CARE PROXY?
 

Under the Health Care Proxy Law, any competent adult 18 years of age or over may execute a Health Care Proxy.  In general, such a document should be signed while you are in good health, sooner rather than later. 

A commonly used example that illustrates the reason for executing a Health Care Proxy sooner rather than later is that of an adult who is incapacitated as a result of an automobile accident and is unable to communicate with his or her doctors.  In such a situation, without a Health Care Proxy it may be necessary for the injured personís family members to file a petition with the Probate Court in order to have a legal guardian appointed to make medical decisions.  Such an approach is time consuming, cumbersome and costly.  A Health Care Proxy, on the other hand, would permit the accident victimís personally chosen and trusted Agent to ďstep into his or her shoes.Ē  The medical authorities involved would be required to take instructions from the Agent, just as if those instructions were coming from the patient his or herself.  The hospital authorities would do so because the law protects the hospital and the Agent as long as they are acting in good faith.


WHEN WOULD A HEALTH CARE PROXY COME INTO PLAY AND WHAT CONTROL DO I HAVE OVER WHEN IT IS USED?
 

Your Agentís right to make health care decisions begins only after a determination is made that you lack the capacity to make or communicate health care decisions.  This determination must be made in writing by your attending physician. 

You must be notified, if at all possible, of this determination and no decision of your agent can go into effect if you object to it.  In that case, your decision will prevail absent a court determination otherwise. 

You may revoke your Health Care Proxy at any time merely by informing your Agent or your health care provider that you want to do so or by executing a new Proxy.


HOW CAN I CONTROL THE DECISIONS MY AGENT MAKES?

You may give specific direction to your Health Care Agent or you may specifically limit his or her powers either in a Health Care Proxy itself or in separate written instructions.

If you donít provide such written instruction, then, by law, the Agent must make health care decisions for you according to his or her assessment of your wishes, considering what he or she knows of your religious and moral beliefs.  You may wish, therefore, to talk with your Agent so that he or she knows what is important to you. 

If your Agent does not know what your specific wishes would be, your Agent must make decisions based on what he or she believes is in your best interest.


WHAT IF I DONíT KNOW EXACTLY WHAT MEDICAL TREATMENT
I WANT?

You do not need to have considered every situation before executing a Health Care Proxy because you are able to provide separate written instructions to your Agent after it is signed. 

You may want to talk these issues over with your family and friends, your doctor, or spiritual advisor.  At that point you may wish to write out what your wishes would be concerning, for example, whether you would want to undergo life-sustaining treatment when it is recommended by your physician. 

If you wish to see specific written clauses that direct your agent concerning your medical care that can be inserted in your Health Care Proxy or in a separate communication, please let me know.


WILL MY AGENT HAVE ADEQUATE INFORMATION TO MAKE DECISIONS?

Your Agent will make decisions for you only after talking with your doctor or health care provider and after fully considering all the options regarding diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of your illness or condition. 

Your Agent has the legal right to get any information, including confidential medical information, necessary to make and form decisions for you.


WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH MY PROXY ONCE I SIGN IT?

Once you execute a Proxy, be sure to give a copy to your doctor, who will put it in your medical record, and to your Agent and any alternate Agent. 

You may want to give additional copies to family members, your clergy, your lawyer and other people who may be involved in your health care decision making.  Keep the original yourself where it can be found easily (not in your safe deposit box).

We hope that this information has provided you with some helpful background concerning the Massachusetts Health Care Proxy.  If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at any time.


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