Health Care Proxy: Questions & Answers

Does a health care proxy cover only decisions to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment?

No. Unless stated otherwise by the person who creates the proxy, an agent can make all health care decisions that the patient could make while competent, from routine treatment decisions to decisions about life-sustaining treatment.

Is a health care proxy only a way for patients to refuse life-sustaining treatment?

No. The proxy is a vehicle to plan for the loss of decision-making capacity. It is just as valuable for people who want to receive treatment, for those who want to choose a particular family member to decide about treatment, and for individuals who wish to authorize someone from outside the family to make health care decisions.

Are health care professionals who provide home care covered by the Proxy Law?

Yes.

Should proxies be honored when patients are admitted to the emergency room?

Physicians may honor decisions by a health care agent in the emergency room if the patient's diagnosis and prognosis can be determined, enabling the agent to make an informed decision. If delay to obtain information will harm the patient, treatment should be provided in accord with accepted medical standards.

Does the Proxy Law affect the validity of living wills?

No. The Proxy Law does not affect an individual's right to create a living will, or the obligation of health care providers to honor the documents.

What if someone creates a health care Proxy and a living will?

The documents work together. The proxy authorizes the agent to decide about treatment and the living will provides guidance to the agent about the patient's health care wishes. If no agent is appointed or available, and the treatments and medical circumstances that arise are the same as or qualitatively similar to those covered in the living will, the living will provides legally valid instructions about treatment.

Can a health care agent authorize active euthanasia?

No. The agent's right to decide about treatment is no greater than that of a competent patient. New York law prohibits active euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Who should get copies of the signed health care Proxy?

Individuals should give copies of their proxy to their agent, their alternate agent, and the health care professionals who routinely provide care to the individual.

Must health care Professionals have the original signed Proxy form in order to rely on the document?

No. They can rely on a copy.