Honoring Choices

Aug 28, 2020

What would happen if you were suddenly unable to speak for yourself and communicate your health care choices? As competent adults, starting at 18 years old, we have the right to direct our health care choices and make our own health care plans. Choosing a trusted person–called a Health Care Agent or Agent–is a good place to start. An Agent is an advocate with the power to make health care decisions on behalf of an individual if that person is unable to make decisions for themselves. An Agent is appointed in a legal document called a Health Care Proxy.

When a person becomes incapacitated, who has the right to make their medical decisions? A health care proxy allows us to appoint someone to act as our agent for medical decisions. It ensures that our medical treatment instructions are carried out. It is especially important to have a health care proxy if there may be disagreements within a person’s family about treatment. Without a health care proxy, a doctor may be required to provide medical treatment the patient would have refused if they were able to do so.

In general, a health care proxy takes effect only when a person requires medical treatment and a physician determines that they are unable to communicate their wishes concerning treatment. If the patient later becomes able to express their own wishes, the patient will be listened to and the health care proxy will have no effect.

Anxiety and fear can make it difficult to broach a discussion about health care and end of life choices. However, it is a conversation well worth having. If we allow fear of the unknown stop us from discussing how we want to be treated in a health crisis, we might find ourselves in a treatment plan we would not have wanted.  It is important to discuss these issues with both your chosen health care agent and with your doctor.

A survey conducted by AARP showed that only 15% of Massachusetts residents have had a conversation with their doctors about end-of-life care.  What is more striking is that 85% of those surveyed believe that physicians and their patients should discuss end-of-life care. There is a large disconnect between what is being talked about and what people believe should be discussed.

46% had not discussed how they would want to be treated if they were incapacitated by illness or injury with anyone, and 55% had not named a health care proxy.

To help ensure your values and health care choices are honored all through your life, discuss this with your loved ones. Choose a health care agent to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself. Appoint your agent in a health care proxy. Not even a spouse or parent has automatic legal authority to make health care decisions on your behalf if you have not named them in your health care proxy.

If you’d like more information and a link to a health care proxy toolkit visit www.honoringchoicesmass.com, or contact SeniorCare at 978-281-1750 and ask to speak to an Honoring Choices Ambassador.

Health and wellness is a lifelong commitment. Our values, passions, and joys are just as important, if not more so, during a health care crisis. Clearly stating your wishes for your health care is an important component of maintaining your overall health and wellness.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End is a book that discusses how medicine can improve life and improve the process of life’s ending. Author Atul Gawande tells us “You may not control life’s circumstances, but getting to be the author of your life means getting to control what you do with them.”