In national cases from Terry Schiavo to Marlise Munoz, we have all seen how easily things go terribly wrong when there are conflicts regarding responsibility for major medical decisions. But every day there are situations when an accident or illness takes us by surprise and we are caught unprepared. Moreover, a recent article in the NY Times pointed to how easy it is for the medical establishment to misidentify a surrogate decision maker, particularly without a health proxy form.
These cases point out how important it is to for every adult to have an advance directive, such as a Health Care Proxy and/or a Living Will, in order to retain control over medical decision-making.
Massachusetts is one of three states that allow people to make their own Health Care Proxies, but does not officially recognize Living Wills. The difference between the two documents is that a Health Care Proxy designates another person to make medical decisions should you be unable to do so, while a Living Will allows you to list medical treatments that you would or would not want if you were unable to make your own decisions.
On an Massachusetts healthcare proxy form you are free to choose almost anyone as an Agent, but it is important that you discuss your treatment preferences with your Agent. You may also write on the form certain treatments that you do or do not want.
According to the Massachusetts Medical Society in order for your care proxy form to be binding, you must sign it in the presence of two adult witnesses. Once you have signed the form, it is recommended that you make at least four copies. Keep the original for yourself, and give copies to your agent, alternate agent, your physician, and anyone else who may be involved in treatment decisions if you ever become unable to make decisions for yourself. Copies of the form are as legally valid as the original, and the document remains valid until you revoke it.
The most important part of a creating a care proxy form is that you are ensuring that even when you are unable to speak out, someone will still listen and understand your values, goals and wishes regarding medical care. And that is something we can all give three cheers for!