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What should I consider when choosing my health care proxy?

It is impossible to know what the future holds, so it can be prudent to select others as alternate decision-makers. Naming someone as your health care proxy can help ensure you receive the type of medical care you want in case you become unable to express your wishes for yourself.

However, the person you select as your health care proxy will have access to your sensitive medical records and be responsible for making serious medical decisions. This person can help doctors decide what treatments to try and what treatments they believe you would have wanted withheld. Sometimes, these decisions may literally mean life or death.

Look for someone you trust

Many people choose a spouse, sibling, adult child or close friend to serve as health care proxy. The person’s relation to you is not especially important. What you should consider above all else is trust.

You should consider who you trust to be at the hospital when they are needed and who you trust with your sensitive medical information. However, it is especially important to consider who can be trusted to act on your wishes even when those wishes conflict with his or her wishes for you.

Consider this persons stability in a crisis

Sometimes a close family member is not a good choice. This might be the case if your family member is likely to prioritize his or her own wishes for you, or it might be the case if he or she becomes irrational or overly emotional during a crisis.

Due to the nature of the position, your health care proxy is likely to be called upon in times of crisis. He or she needs to be able to stay calm and make quick decisions when necessary. Your health care proxy should also be able to ask doctors the right questions, so an informed decision can be made, and confidently advocate for you, especially when family or medical professionals try to push their own strong opinions.

Make sure he or she is logistically appropriate

Once you consider trust and stability in a crisis, it is important to make sure your choice is logistically appropriate. The person you choose must be a competent adult who is at least 18 years old. Your doctor cannot be named for this role.

You may further consider the age of your potential proxy because you want the person to be available for a long time in the future. You may also want to consider how quickly your potential proxy could get to your hospital. A recent Forbes article recommends selecting someone who lives within 50 miles of you.

If you struggle to find one perfect candidate, consider appointing multiple people. Put the person you trust the most as your first choice, and select another person or two as back-ups who can serve if the first choice is unavailable at the time he or she is needed.

Selecting someone to make health care decisions on your behalf should never be done lightly. Being a health care proxy involves serious responsibility, so you want to be sure the person you choose is trustworthy and up to the challenge.

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  • Walter J. Roesch IV
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