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Advanced Health Directives

Advance directives are verbal or written instructions that are valuable in the event of an incapacitating illness or injury. One type of advance directive is a Health Care Proxy. The New York State Health Care Proxy Law allows you to appoint someone you trust to make health care decisions for you if you lose the ability to make those decisions yourself. You may give the person you select as your health care agent as little or as much authority as you want. You may also give your agent instructions that he or she has to follow. The following frequently asked questions can help in understanding the importance of a Health Care Proxy.

Q: Why should I choose a health care agent?
A: If you become unable, even temporarily, to make health care decisions, someone else must make your health care decisions for you. Appointing an agent lets you control your medical treatment.

Q: How do I appoint a health care agent?
A: All competent adults can appoint a health care agent by signing a form called a Health Care Proxy.

Q: When would my health care agent begin to make health care decisions for me?
A: Your health care agent would begin to make health care decisions after your doctor decides that you are not able to make your own health care decisions.

Q: Why do I need to appoint a health care agent if I'm young and healthy?
A: A health care agent can act on your behalf if you become even temporarily unable to make your own health care decisions (such as might occur if you are under general anesthesia or have become comatose because of an accident).

Q: How will my health care agent make decisions?
A: Your agent must follow your wishes, as well as your moral and religious beliefs. Having an open and frank discussion about your wishes with your health care agent will put him or her in a better position to serve your interests.

Q: What if I change my mind?
A: It is easy to cancel your Health Care Proxy, to change the person you have chosen as your health care agent or to change any instructions or limitations you have included on the form.

Forms and further information are available at www.putitinwriting.org, or from your physician or the Unity Hospital Social Work Department at 723-7160.