Can a Health Care Proxy Override the Patient’s Decision?
Can a Health Care Proxy Override the Patient’s Decision?

Can a Health Care Proxy Override the Patient’s Decision?

Under New York law, healthcare proxies are individuals whom you appoint as decision makers if you become incapacitated and cannot make decisions for themselves. They have authority to speak to doctors about treatment decisions as well as review any medical records deemed relevant by you. Your health care agent can also be authorized to make difficult end-of-life decisions according to your instructions, such as stopping life-prolonging treatments or withdrawing feeding tubes when an individual loses the ability to swallow, such as when suffering from severe dementia. Such decisions are among the hardest ones anyone faces in life and it is critical that their physician understands clearly your wishes in this situation.

Your healthcare agent must be capable of making these difficult decisions on your behalf, so selecting someone you feel confident making these decisions for you is key. Also keep them updated about any of your wishes or thoughts regarding end-of-life decisions so they are ready to act in line with your values and goals in an emergency situation. You should discuss plans with this individual prior to designating them as an agent so they are comfortable taking on this role in case of an unexpected emergency situation.

People often have differing feelings regarding whom to appoint as their healthcare agent, with some fearing naming family as agents could lead to disputes amongst themselves regarding who should make decisions for them. A health care proxy allows an alternate agent to make decisions if there are conflicts of interests or disagreements on who should make these decisions on your behalf.

Your healthcare agent will only have the rights and powers that are specifically granted by you via a health care proxy document. In it, you can set forth their scope of decision-making; typically just filling out a simple form with your contact info will do. Furthermore, this form can contain instructions such as treatment preferences or your desire to donate organs and tissues.

Add an addendum that states your agent cannot be held liable for decisions they made in good faith and that any treatments or procedures he/she authorizes on your behalf won’t incur additional expenses from them.

If your agent is incapable of making decisions for you, your attending physician can appoint a temporary Guardian until a competency hearing can take place in court to establish one permanently. Either way, clear evidence must exist showing you are incapable of making your own decisions and that this person should serve as guardian instead.

Many hospitals and medical facilities rely on patients’ closest biological family members when making decisions about treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who wish to have other loved ones make medical decisions on their behalf. Therefore, all adults should complete a healthcare proxy form so as to appoint either an alternate Agent or permanent Guardian in case their health care needs change in the future.