If you suddenly became too sick or injured to speak for yourself, who would you trust to choose a course of treatment for you? And would they know what you wanted? Island internist Jack Resnick tackled these questions in a recent seminar on advance healthcare planning held at the Roosevelt Island Senior Center.
According to Dr. Resnick, there are three documents that are respected under New York State law: a Health Care Proxy, a Living Will, and an In-House Physician’s Order to prevent cardiac resuscitation.
Health Care Proxy
“If there were to come a time when you are too sick to say what treatment you want, a Health Care Proxy is a person who can speak for you officially,” Dr. Resnick explained. “As soon as you can again make your wishes known, the proxy is no longer used.”
According to Dr. Resnick, designating a proxy does not require a notary and is legal when witnessed by two people who know you. Although the Health Care Proxy designation can last forever if you wish, it becomes null and void at any point that one decides. Dr. Resnick further informed that there is no limit on the number of times you can change the person designated to make decisions on your behalf. You may choose your doctor as your health care proxy, however s/he can no longer act as your physician once s/he takes on that role.
Dr. Resnick explained that you need not give carte blanche to your agent, but can instead outline treatment decisions for many medical procedures. To do so, a discussion of your medical wishes must be clarified with your agent, as he or she can only act on your wishes if they are known in advance. After completing the document, copies should be given to all medical offices where you receive care, as well as to your designated proxy. Additionally, a copy should be easily locatable in your home.
New York Living Will
Unlike the Health Care Proxy, a Living Will only goes into effect if you have a terminal illness or are near the end of life and are unable to communicate. This document records any medical procedure that you want to forego such as tube feeding, being placed on a ventilator, and other interventions. It also specifies whether you do, however, want to be kept comfortable and agree to pain medications.
In-House Physician’s Order
The third document is rarely necessary and applies to the very ill who remain at home. In this case a physician would write an order to prevent cardiac resuscitation if an outside person, such as a paramedic, responds to a call. This document requires a discussion with your doctor.
Dr. Resnick said he hopes to gives similar presentations in the future.