A law, called the New York health care proxy law, allows you to
appoint someone you trust - for example, a family member or close
friend - to decide about treatment if you lose the ability to
decide for yourself. You can do this by using a Health Care Proxy
to appoint your "health care agent."
You can give the person you select as little or as much
authority as you want. You can allow your health care agent to
decide about all health care or only about certain treatments. You
may also give your agent instructions that he or she has to follow.
You agent can then make sure that health care professionals follow
your wishes and can decide how your wishes apply as your medical
condition changes. Hospitals, doctors and other health care
providers must follow your agent's decisions as if they were your
Why should I choose a health care agent?
If you become too sick to make health care decisions, someone
else must decide for you. Health care professionals often look to
family members for guidance. But family members are not allowed to
decide to stop treatment, even when they believe that is what you
would choose or what is best for you under the circumstances.
Appointing an agent lets you control your medical treatment
- allowing your agent to stop treatment when he or she decides
that is what you would want or what is best for you under the
- choosing one family member to decide about treatment because
you think that person would make the best decisions or because you
want to avoid conflict or confusion about who should decide;
- and, choosing someone outside your family to decide about
treatment because no one in your family is available or because you
prefer that someone other than a family member decide about hour
How can I appoint a health care agent?
All competent adults can appoint a health care agent by signing
a form called a Health Care Proxy. You don't need a
lawyer, just two adult witnesses.
When would my health care agent begin to make treatment
decisions for me?
Your health care agent would begin to make treatment decisions
after doctors decide that you are not able to make health care
decisions. As long as you are able to make treatment decisions for
yourself, you will have the right to do so.
What decisions can my health care agent make?
Unless you limit your health care agent's authority, your agent
will be able to make any treatment decision that you could have
made if you were able to decide for yourself. Your agent can agree
that you should receive treatment, choose among different
treatments, and decide what treatments should not be provided, in
accord with your wishes and interests. If your health care agent is
not aware of your wishes about artificial nutrition and hydration
(nourishment and water provided by feeding tubes), he or she will
not be able to make decisions about these measures. Artificial
nutrition and hydration are used in many circumstances, and are
often used to continue the life of patients who are in a permanent
How can I give my agent written instructions?
Instruction for Filling Out a Health Care Proxy.
How will my health care agent make decisions?
You can write instruction on the proxy form. Your agent must
follow your oral and written instructions, as well as your moral
and religious beliefs. If your agent does not know your wishes or
beliefs, your agent is legally required to act in your best
Who will pay attention to my agent?
All hospitals, doctors and other health care facilities are
legally required to obey decisions by your agent. If a hospital
objects to some treatment options (such as removing a certain
treatment) they must tell you or your agent IN ADVANCE.
What if my health care agent is not available when decisions
must be made?
You can appoint an alternate agent to decide for you if your
health care agent is not available or able to act when decisions
must be made. Otherwise, health care providers will make treatment
decisions for you that follow instructions you gave while you were
still able to do so. Any instructions that you write on your Health
Care Proxy form will guide health care providers under these
What if I change my mind?
It is easy to cancel the proxy, to change the person you have
chosen as your health care agent, or to change any treatment
instructions you have written on your Health Care Proxy form. Just
fill out a new form. In addition, you can require that the Health
Care Proxy expire on a certain date or if certain events occur.
Otherwise, the Health Care Proxy will be valid indefinitely. If you
choose your spouse as your health care agent and you get divorced
or legally separated, the proxy is automatically cancelled.
Can my health care agent be legally liable for decisions made
on my behalf?
No. Your health care agent will now be liable for treatment
decisions made in good faith on your behalf. Also, he or she cannot
be held liable for costs of your care, just because he or she is
Is a health care proxy the same as a living will?
No. A living will is a document that provides specific
instructions about health care treatment. It is generally used to
declare wishes to refuse life-sustaining treatment under certain
circumstances. In contrast, the health care proxy allows you to
choose someone you trust to make treatment decisions on your
behalf. Unlike a living will, a health care proxy does not require
that you know in advance all the decisions that may arise. Instead,
your health care agent can interpret your wishes as medical
circumstances change and can make decisions you could not have
known would have to be made. The health care proxy is just as
useful for decisions to receive treatment as it is for decisions to
stop treatment. If you complete a Health Care Proxy form, but also
have a living will, the living will provides instructions for your
health care agent, and will guide his or her decisions.
Where should I keep the proxy form after it is signed?
Give a copy to your agent, your doctor and any other family
members or close friends you want. You can also keep a copy in your
wallet or purse, or with other important papers. The Healthcare
Association of New York State and the New York Chapter of the
Society of Patient Representatives have developed a wallet-size
version of the Health Care Proxy that enables you to carry this
with you at all times.
Does completing the wallet-size version mean that I don't have
to fill out a full-size Health Care Proxy form?
The wallet-size version of the Health Care Proxy form is an
abbreviated version of the full-size
Health Care Proxy form. This card is intended to be carried
with you; you should still complete a full-size version of the
proxy form and give copies to your agent, your doctor, your
attorney, and any other family members or close friends you
APPOINTING A HEALTH CARE AGENT IS A SERIOUS
DECISION. MAKE SURE YOU TALK ABOUT IT WITH YOUR FAMILY,
CLOSE FRIENDS, AND YOUR DOCTOR.
DO IT IN ADVANCE, NOT JUST WHEN YOU ARE
PLANNING TO ENTER THE HOSPITAL.
FILLING OUT A HEALTH CARE PROXY IS VOLUNTARY,
NO ONE CAN REQUIRE YOU TO DO SO.