Who Will Speak for You?

The New York Health Care Proxy Law allows you to appoint someone you trust — for example, a family member or close friend – to make health care decisions for you if you lose the ability to make decisions yourself. By appointing a health care agent, you can make sure that health care providers follow your wishes.

Everyone over the age of 18 needs to appoint a health care agent. There are two situations in which a health care agent will be needed:

  1. Temporary inability to make health care decisions – no matter what your age is. For example, you are having an outpatient surgical procedure and are under general anesthesia. Something unexpected happens and a health care decision needs to be made. If you have a health care agent, since you are temporarily unable to make your own decisions, the health care agent may make the decision. Once you become conscious again, the health care agent would no longer have any authority to act;
  2. Permanent inability to make health care decisions – this would arise if you were comatose from a terminal illness, in a persistent vegetative state, suffered from an illness that left you unable to communicate or, if elderly, suffered from senile dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Under these circumstances you would obviously be unable to make your own health care decisions. If you don't have a health care agent, all appropriate medical treatments will be provided to you. If you have appointed a health care agent, your health care agent can be your voice and make your health care decisions according to your own wishes, or your best interests.

Your agent can also decide how your wishes apply as your medical condition changes. Hospitals, doctors and other health care providers must follow your agent's decisions as if they were your own. You may give the person you select as your health care agent as little or as much authority as you want. You may allow your agent to make all health care decisions or only certain ones. You may also give your agent instructions that he or she has to follow. This form can also be used to document your wishes or instructions with regard to organ and/or tissue donation.

Making decisions about how you want to live the remainder of your life and appointing the appropriate person to be your health care agent can be overwhelming. In order to assist in the decision making process, the Department recommends the following steps:

Clarify Values and Beliefs

It is important to consider and to think about your individual wishes as they relate to how you want to live the remainder of your life. Most people don't have any idea how to begin to think about this or begin a discussion about this. Many people are finding that using tools, such as a values assessment, may help to pinpoint key feelings and opinions about how they want to live the remainder of their lives. Such tools can be found at the following web sites:

Choose a Spokesperson

Choosing a health care agent who will speak for you and make decisions when you are unable is a very important task that each adult needs to make, regardless of age or health care status. Your agent will advocate for your preferred treatment and ensure that your wishes are carried out at a point in time when you cannot speak for yourself.

Once your agent is chosen, it is very important to share your wishes, thoughts and opinions about how you want to live the remainder of your life with your agent. A person will not be able to predict every scenario that may present itself in a health care situation. As such, explaining your thoughts, feelings and preferences will give your agent the information necessary to make decisions on your behalf.

Discuss Your Wishes

It is important to discuss your wishes with your health care providers, particularly your primary care provider. This information will enable your providers to care for you in a manner that is consistent with your wishes.

Forms: Appointing Your Health Care Agent in New York State

The New York Health Care Proxy form and instructions are available as an Abobe Acrobat PDF (portable document format) in the following languages:

Practical Issues

Once your Health Care Proxy has been signed, it's important to ensure that a copy is given to your agent, primary care provider and other family members. It is also a good idea to consider carrying a copy in your wallet or purse, in case of unexpected emergencies.