2003-10-31 / Community

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer
Notes On Consumer Affairs By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer

Because the future holds many uncertainties, people often do all they can to control and prepare for what lies ahead; we save money in deferred compensation programs like 401k’s, we purchase insurance, and we create wills. However, we often neglect to prepare for one of the more daunting circumstances we may face; a situation when we may be unable to make health care decisions for ourselves. Although it is an uncomfortable topic for many to discuss, it does not diminish its importance. The way in which you prepare for such a situation is via a health care proxy.

A health care proxy is a legal document that gives you the opportunity to choose an agent, who acts on your authority, when you are unable, to make all health care decisions for you, except to the extent you say otherwise. "Health care" will include any treatment, service, or procedure to diagnose or treat your physical or mental condition You can limit or expand the scope of treatment your agent can decide upon. For example, you can decide that you want only artificial nutrition but not artificial respiration. When filling out the health care proxy, you decide what treatment you wish to receive or decline and your agent must follow your instructions.

Prior to filling out the proxy or while filling it out, you may want to talk with a doctor or other health care professional. You should try and be as informed as possible about the types of decisions that may be faced by your agent. To fill out the proxy, you do not need a lawyer, however, you will need two witnesses at least 18 years of age to witness and sign the proxy. The person who is appointed agent or alternate agent cannot sign as a witness.

Your agent can be anyone you choose who is over 18 years of age. If you choose your doctor, he/she may need to choose between acting as your agent or as your doctor. Your doctor cannot act in both an agent capacity as well as being your attending physician at the same time. If you are a patient or resident at a hospital, nursing home, or mental health facility, there are restrictions on naming someone who works at the facility as your agent. Staff at the facility should be able to explain its restrictions to you prior to filling out the proxy and naming a worker as an agent.

The health care proxy is effective only after you are no longer able to make health care decisions as determined by a physician. Until that time, you are in complete control of all decisions that will be made regarding your care. Your health care proxy may be revoked orally and you have the right, while competent, to sign a new proxy.

For a preprinted healthcare proxy form, you may stop by my offices at 90-16 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, Rockaway Beach or 108-14 Crossbay Boulevard, Ozone Park.

Remember, without a proxy your physician may be required to provide medical treatment you would have refused if you were able to do so.1 Now is the time to prepare and position yourself so that your wishes will be fulfilled. Talk with your family and close friends when choosing an agent. You want to ensure that your agent will be willing and able to follow your wishes. In uncertain times, you can at least be certain your health care will be according to your desires.

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