2005-05-20 / Community

Pheffer: Make Your Own Health Decisions

Assemblywoman Audrey I. Pheffer urges everyone to take steps that will ensure your personal decisions govern the end of your life.

Whether to accept or reject medical care in an end-of-life situation is a very personal decision based upon one’s own beliefs. Should a serious accident or illness leave you unable to communicate those wishes, it is necessary that measures are in place to ensure your desires are honored. In New York State, that means having a living will or health care proxy . The emotional case of Terri Schiavo shows what can happen when an individual’s wishes are not spelled out.

A health care proxy and l iving will are similar in that they both clarify what to do only when you lack the capacity to make your own medical decisions. A health care proxy empowers a loved one to make medical decisions for your, whereas a

living will is specific written instructions describing your medical wishes in detail — usually crafted by you and left with your attorney. You can use these documents in tandem, so your health care agent has greater guidance for what you would want in specific medical situations.

The New York State Health Care Proxy Law allows you to appoint a competent adult as your health care agent. It is important to note that you must specifically document your wishes about life-sustaining artificial nutrition and hydration, or your health care agent will not be able to make these decisions for your. A health care proxy can be filled out easily without a lawyer, and become legally binding after you and two witnesses sign it.

Once you complete a health care proxy , hospitals, doctors and other health care providers must follow your agent’s decisions as if they were your own. The health care proxy will not only help ensure your wishes will be carried out, but also eliminates any conflict or confusion among your loved ones.

If at any time you change your mind about your end-of-life wishes, it is important to amend your health care proxy or living will.

If you would like to learn more about this important issue, you can visit the Assembly’s Web site at www.assembly.state.ny.us/req for more information; or stop by one of my district offices (90-16 Rockaway Beach Blvd., Rockaway Beach; or 108-14 Cross Bay Boulevard, Ozone Park) for a free copy of “Planning Your Health Care in Advance,” published by the Attorney General’s Office.

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