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Choosing the right person to serve as health care proxy

On Behalf of | Nov 1, 2023 | Elder Law |

Adults generally have the legal authority to make their own healthcare decisions in New York. They can decline treatment if it violates their religious beliefs or seek elective care that is not strictly medically necessary. However, some people end up in a situation where they cannot assert themselves to obtain the care that they believe is appropriate. Sometimes, people experience a prolonged period of unconsciousness due to a brain injury or a severe medical incident that leads to doctors putting them in a medically-induced coma, for example.

Other times, people experience declining cognitive ability, possibly related to age or specific health challenges. They lose the necessary legal capacity to make such determinations for themselves. Those who cannot communicate or do not have the legal authority to make their own care decisions may need the help of a health care proxy to act on their behalf. How can someone most effectively choose the right person to fill that role?

Assessing relationships and personal history

The two most important considerations when choosing a health care proxy will be the relationship that the testator has with the different people they consider for that role and the prior conduct of those individuals. For example, selecting a health care proxy who has demonstrated resentment toward the person drafting the document would likely not be the best decision. They want someone who will put their best interests first and uphold their personal wishes when making decisions about medical care.

Likewise, it is important to select someone who has a history of being personally responsible and an ability to advocate for the patient. Someone who is very shy and withdrawing might not counter other family members who want treatment that does not align with someone’s wishes. They may also struggle to negotiate with hospital staff members to ensure someone has an adequate standard of medical support.

The right health care proxy is intelligent, organized and respectful while also being assertive. Many people find that it is better to name someone that they know and trust who is not in their immediate inner circle, such as a younger cousin or a close friend. Children and spouses often experience such severe emotional turmoil during a loved one’s medical emergency that they may have a hard time filling the role as their loved one’s health care proxy. The decision to create documents outlining one’s medical wishes won’t be very valuable if the person chosen to enforce those documents is incapable of speaking up on someone’s behalf.

Carefully thinking about different candidates will help someone arrive at the best solution when selecting a health care proxy to support them in the event of a medical emergency. Those with questions can always seek legal assistance as needed, as well.