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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.