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What is a health care proxy?

As people age, they tend to start thinking about what would happen if they fall ill and about the type of care they would like to receive in their final days. However, depending on your state of health, you may not have the ability to communicate your wishes to medical professionals. To ensure your wishes are carried out, it’s important to have a health care proxy.

What is a health care proxy?

A health care proxy ensures you get the type of care you want if you become incapacitated.

According Canadian Virtual Hospice, “a proxy is a person who makes health care decisions on the person’s behalf when the person is unable to communicate. No one can anticipate all the decisions that might have to be made over weeks or months of palliative care and a health care directive cannot possibly address every single situation. So, as part of a health care directive, a person can name a proxy they trust to speak for them if they are not able to speak for themselves.”

A health care proxy is most commonly identified in a document called a health care directive. This document outlines your personal preferences for treatment and important decisions about your health care. For example, you can request to be kept comfortable and pain-free as death nears. A health directive takes into account your medical conditions, your wishes and whom you would like to carry out your wishes.

A health care directive can be as simple as a handwritten note that is dated and signed. Many people use an estate lawyer to draw up the documentation.

Your role as a proxy

If you agree to become a health care proxy for someone, it’s important that you do everything in your power to carry out the person’s wishes, even if you don’t agree with them. You should put your personal beliefs aside. Be aware that family members of the person you are a proxy for may not agree with the person’s wishes either.

If a person does not have a health care directive, the person’s family members are often asked to come to an agreement about how care should be administered.

Advantages of writing a health care directive

There are advantages to assigning a proxy and writing a health care directive in advance:

  • You choose a trusted individual to act in your best interest
  • You set a clear plan for your health care
  • You will have peace of mind knowing your wishes will be respected
  • You take the pressure off family members to make difficult decisions about your health

Keep in mind that once you assign a proxy, you can still change your wishes. If you change your mind about how you would like your health care administered in your final days, make sure to update your directive. Remember that all situations cannot be foreseen, so it important to be as clear and thorough as possible about your preferences.