What is a Health Care Agent?

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A health care agent is someone you choose in advance to make medical decisions for you in the event that you become unable to make such decisions for yourself. A health care agent may also be called a health care proxy or surrogate.

A health care agent will make decisions about your health care only when you are, for some reason, unable to do so yourself. This means that your health care agent can act on your behalf if you are temporarily unconscious, in a coma, or have some other condition in which you cannot make or communicate health care decisions. Your health care agent cannot act for you until your doctor determines, in writing, that you lack the ability to make health care decisions for yourself. Your doctor will tell your health care proxy if, in their opinion, you cannot make this decision for yourself.

Your health care agent will make decisions for you only after talking with your doctors or health care providers, and after fully considering all the options regarding diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. Your health care agent has the legal right to get any information, including confidential medical information, necessary to make informed decisions for you.

Who Should I Ask to be My Health Care Agent?

It is important to ask someone who you feel knows you well, understand and respects your values, and can be trusted to make important medical decisions on your behalf. Your health care agent should be someone you trust to make the same medical choices for you that you would make for yourself. In the state of Massachusetts, a decision by a health care proxy, once it goes into effect, is considered the same as if you were making this decision yourself. If you live in another state, rules about such matters differ. You should learn how your state addresses this kind of situation in the event you are ever hospitalized locally.

What is a Health Care Proxy Form?

A Health Care Proxy form is a simple legal document that allows you to name someone you know and trust to make health care decisions for you if, for any reason and at any time, you become unable to make or communicate those decisions.

Under the Health Care Proxy Law (Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 201D), any competent adult over 18 years of age may use a Health Care Proxy form to appoint a Health Care Agent. Whether or not you live in Massachusetts, you can use the Health Care Proxy form if you receive your health care in Massachusetts.

The Health Care Proxy form allows you to set limits on what authority your health care agent will have over your health care decisions.

You will need to have two adult witnesses present to watch you sign the document. You do not need a lawyer. Your health care agent and alternate health care agent cannot serve as witnesses. If you are physically unable to sign the Health Care Proxy form due to disease progression, you may have a third adult witness verify for your oral approval by signing his or her name on the form.

To learn more, please talk with your health care provider.