The trouble with having long-term medical problems is that they do not always give you a warning before they arrive. Even if you are perfectly healthy for your age, any sudden illness or accident could suddenly leave you with chronic health issues that make it more difficult for you to care for yourself or make your own decisions. For this reason and more, you should seriously consider forming a healthcare proxy, just in case.

Put simply, a healthcare proxy is a legal arrangement where you grant another person the authority to make healthcare decisions on your behalf, if you are unable to do so yourself. This could be because you have been incapacitated, or because you have suffered a mental or physical disability of some kind, or because of a variety of other possible things that could make it difficult for you to make decisions or communicate your wishes to others. Whatever the reason, a healthcare proxy will ensure there is someone representing your interests when you cannot represent yourself.

A healthcare proxy allows someone to essentially make medical decisions as though they were you. This allows them, for example, to approve tests and treatments that would normally require your approval and allows them to give informed consent for surgeries or other forms of medical intervention. In extreme circumstances, a healthcare proxy may even make decisions about whether to resuscitate you if your heart stops or you stop breathing.

The biggest reason to have a healthcare proxy in place is to avoid what happens if you become incapacitated and do not have one. Without a healthcare proxy, decisions about your healthcare will fall to one of several individuals, based on the New York Family Health Care Decisions Act. In order, those decisions will fall to your spouse or domestic partner, adult child, parent, sibling, or possibly even a close friend. Or, if none of those options are available, it will be the hospital staff or a legally appointed guardian making those decisions for you.

While this may work fine for some people, others may be alarmed to learn who would be making medical decisions for them if they became incapacitated. It would be nice to believe our family members would always take our wishes into consideration and protect us when we become unable to care for ourselves, but unfortunately that is not always the case. And being stuck in the hospital with a serious illness or injury is a bad time to realize a family member you do not trust will be responsible for making medical decisions on your behalf.

A healthcare proxy helps to avoid this situation by ensuring only one person you trust has the authority to make these decisions on your behalf. This could be a family member, a friend, or someone else you believe would represent your interests when you are unable to do so yourself. That way, you at least know you will be treated the way you want to be treated, and not how someone else might want due to their own beliefs or their personal feelings about you.

If there is no other person you believe you could trust as a healthcare proxy, there is at least one other option to available to you. Another kind of advance directive known as a living will can allow you to dictate your wishes about your treatment in advance, which your doctors must obey if you become incapacitated and unable to make your own medical decisions. A living will is not necessarily an ideal substitute for a living will, but at the very least you know your own wishes will be respected, regardless of what others may want.

Regardless of whether you choose to establish a healthcare proxy, or a living will, however, it is important that you take care of this issue as soon as possible. Tragedy can strike at any time, and by the time you need these measures in place, it is too late to arrange them. Start planning for the possibility of disaster today, so you can be assured your needs will be taken care of in the future.

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