WHAT IS A HEALTH CARE PROXY?
Under New York's health care proxy law, any competent person can authorize another person, usually a family member, to make health care decisions, if the patient becomes unable to do so.
This is done by completing the standard health care proxy form, noting the person you are designating to make decisions, noting any specific decision that you want the person you are designating to make, and by signing the document in front of two witnesses.
WHY DO I NEED A HEALTH CARE PROXY?
Without a health care proxy, your doctor may be required to provide you with medical treatment that you would have refused if you were able to do so. For example, your doctor may be required to provide you with artificial nutrition and hydration, a respirator, or CPR, even though you are in a coma with no hope of recovery, or are terminally ill.
WHEN DOES IT TAKE EFFECT?
The health care proxy becomes effective only when you become unable to make decisions, as determined by a physician. Until then, you continue to be in charge of making your own health care decisions. It can be revoked orally, and you always have the right while competent to sign a new health care proxy.
HOW IS A HEALTH CARE PROXY DIFFERENT THAN A POWER OF ATTORNEY?
A health care proxy is different than a power of attorney. A power of attorney primarily authorizes the person you designate to make financial decisions for you. It cannot be used to make health care decisions. You must complete a health care proxy in order to have an agent to make health care decisions when you are not able.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A HEALTH CARE PROXY AND A LIVING WILL?
A health care proxy is also different than a living will, although each serves the same purpose of allowing you to make decisions in advance about your health care. A living will is a document that you sign in advance in which you specifically set forth your decisions about health care treatment. Unlike the health care proxy, however, it does not authorize you to appoint an agent to make decisions that you did not anticipate when you completed the living will. The health care proxy provides specific instructions and also designates an agent to make decisions when there are events you did not anticipate.
This information is being provided by the Office of New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman (see disclaimer).