Choosing Your Health Care Agent

Choosing a health care agent (agent) helps to ensure you receive the care you want at the end of life. Your health care agent should be someone you trust, such as a family member or close friend. Your agent makes medical decisions for you when you no longer can. You can ask your agent to make all your health care decisions or only certain ones. Your agent can also decide how your wishes apply as your condition changes. Appointing a health care agent ensures that providers follow your wishes.

Everyone over age 18 should have a health care agent. Situations that may require an agent:

  • You are in a coma from an accident or illness
  • You are terminally ill and not expected to recover
  • You have Alzheimer's or another form of dementia
  • You are under general anesthesia, when something unexpected occurs
  • You are in a persistent vegetative state
  • You suffered from an illness that left you unable to communicate

Clarify your values and beliefs.

Consider what's important to you. What contributes to the quality of life you want? How do you want to spend your final years, weeks or days? What activities are essential to having a quality life? What role does your faith play in making these decisions?

Frame your medical wishes around these values and priorities. Determine which treatments you are willing to accept. Figure out which treatments you would never want. How much medical care are you willing to have to stay alive? What kind of medical risks are you willing to take? When would you want to shift from treatment to comfort care? Comfort care is medical care that relieves pain and reduces suffering.

Have an honest conversation.

Talk to family members and friends about what you want. During those conversations, look for someone who is most likely to represent your wishes.

Once you choose an agent, continue to share your wishes, thoughts and opinions with that person. It's impossible to predict every scenario that may present itself. But explaining your views will give your agent the information to make decisions on your behalf.

Discuss your wishes with providers.

It's important to share your wishes with your health care providers. This information will enable them to care for you in a manner that is consistent with your wishes. You should also let them know you have a health care proxy form.

Once you have a health care agent, complete the New York Health Care Proxy form. Instructions are available in several languages:

Give a copy of the completed form to your proxy, primary care provider and other family members. It is also a good idea to carry a copy in your wallet or purse, in case of emergencies.