What would happen if you weren’t able to make healthcare decisions for yourself? Who would you want to make these important decisions for you? It’s a topic you should consider and plan for well before you face a serious illness or medical emergency by creating an advanced care plan.
As part of your advanced care plan, you should choose someone to serve as your healthcare proxy, agent, or power of attorney. There are certain legal requirements concerning who can serve in this role, check your state’s guidelines or talk with a lawyer to make sure your wishes will be respected and carried out. When deciding who you would like to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are not able to make them for yourself, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this person able to make decisions effectively under pressure? Making healthcare decisions for someone who is seriously ill or gravely injured can be extremely stressful and decisions may need to be made very quickly. The person you choose should be able to focus on making sure you receive the care that you’ve outlined in your advance care plan and that you don’t receive any interventions you do not wish to undergo.
- Will this person be available to meet with healthcare providers as needed? While some decisions can be made after talking with your physicians by phone, it’s usually better to have your proxy present when decisions are being made so he or she can better assess the situation. That means you may want to consider someone who lives near you. Also think about whether the person you’re considering has a job that would limit his or her ability to meet with your physicians, for example someone who’s serving in the military or whose job keeps him or her on the road most of the week.
- Is this person assertive? Your healthcare proxy is there to ensure that the wishes you outline in your advance care plan are respected. For that reason, it’s wise to choose someone who is assertive and who will speak up, ask questions, and request second opinions as needed. Some people are hesitant to question a doctor’s recommendations or assessments, so they would probably not be as effective at advocating for you.
- Does this person understand your moral and religious values? When choosing a healthcare proxy, you need to have a frank discussion with the person you’re considering so that you can share your values and find out if they’re willing to carry out your wishes. Your proxy doesn’t necessarily have to have the same values, but if you do not want to be put on a ventilator if there is no hope of recovery, you need to know that he or she will respect that wish even if they don’t share your beliefs. In addition, there may be situations that you haven’t specifically outlined in your advanced care plan where your proxy will need to make decisions based on an understanding of what you would want to happen.
Once you’ve chosen a healthcare proxy and he or she has agreed to serve in this role on your behalf, it’s important to have ongoing discussions about your wishes. What types of care you want and do not want may change over time, so keeping the lines of communication open can help ensure that your proxy advocates for the care you want.