200 Groton Road, Ayer, MA 01432 978-784-9000
In determining the medical health care that is right for you, your Nashoba Valley Medical Center doctor relies on a knowledge of your values and preferences, as well as his or her own medical judgement. Unfortunately, situations sometimes arise, such as accidents or severe illnesses, when people are unable to participate fully in decisions about their care. It can be very helpful if there is an individual, who knows you well, who can speak on your behalf in the event of such occurrences.
"Health Care Proxy" is a legal document, recognized under Massachusetts law, which enables you to choose a Health Care Agent - a person to speak for you if you ever become incapable of taking part in planning the course of your own medical care. He or she would be consulted by your doctor and asked to assist in making decisions for you.
Identifying an agent puts on record a specific person you trust to speak for you about any medical issues that may affect you. The process of choosing an agent should prompt important discussions about your values and preferences with those close to you. These conversations can make it much easier for family, friends, and doctors to make the best decision for you even in very difficult situations, such as those involving choices about the use of life-supporting treatments. Your agent will have full legal authority to speak on your behalf, so you can feel confident that your wishes will be respected.
Your agent should be a person close to you, whose judgement you trust and who is comfortable with the responsibility. If there are several people you would want to be involved in decision-making, you can designate one individual as the primary agent and designate the others as alternate agents to serve in the event your primary agent is unable to do so.
Once you have informed your agent that you would like to designate him or her in this role, you should have one or more thorough conversations about the things in life you value and about your goals for your medical care. These discussions should allow your agent to know enough about your values and preferences to speak comfortably on your behalf. It is also important that you let other members of your family know that you have identified an agent and what that means.
To focus your discussion, try to think about what another person would need to know about you in order to make decisions that are consistent with your values and preferences. Here are some questions you might keep in mind:
You should discuss with your doctor any important values and preferences that are relevant to your medical care. This is also an opportunity to ask questions that you may have about specific treatment issues. If you have completed a Health Care Proxy, you should be sure that your doctor has a copy of the document.
Nashoba Valley Medical Center recommends that you use the simple and clear Model Health Care Proxy form developed by a Massachusetts Task Force of major statewide health care and legal organizations. This is available through our social services department 978-784-9416, or in registration. You do not need a lawyer to complete a Health Care Proxy form. You will need to have two persons, other that your agent, who are willing to sign the proxy form as witnesses.
A living will is a document that details a person's preferences about life-sustaining medical treatments if he or she becomes terminally ill. When writing a living will, it is difficult to anticipate all the circumstances under which complicated medical decisions may have to be made. Another drawback of many living wills is that they do not formally designate an individual with whom you would like your doctor to consult if you are ever unable to make important medical decisions.
In contrast, a Health Care Proxy is not limited to situations of terminal illness and does designate the individual(s) you think can best help your doctor understand your values, preferences, and feelings. This can ensure a more reliable interpretation and implementation of your wishes - assuming, of course, that you have discussed your wishes with those close to you.
Only a Health Care Proxy is formally recognized by Massachusetts law. For this reason, and because of the limitations of a living will described above, it is recommended that persons who choose to prepare a living will also complete a separate Health Care Proxy.
A proxy is automatically revoked if you complete another proxy at a later date, or if you legally separate from or divorce your spouse who was named in the proxy as your agent. You may also revoke your proxy by notifying your agent, your doctor, or other health care provider, orally or in writing, that you want to revoke the proxy, or by any other act which indicates a clear intention to revoke.