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Health care proxies are vital, sez pol

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It’s called a Health Care Proxy – a document designating a health care agent who will instruct medical providers whether to keep you on life support or unplug it. A copy of the Health Care Proxy is handed out as part of the Patients Bill of Rights at every state-run hospital, according to Victor Ortiz, executive Coordinator of Communications Relations at Maimonides Medical Center. Ortiz spoke about the proxy at a recent meeting of the Midwood Civic Action Council, saying it is an important document to have for advance planning while undergoing medical treatments. This includes making decisions regarding cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or the issuance of a Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) order, he said. Ortiz said that, once filled out, the Health Care Proxy gives your agent the authority to make all health care decisions for you. This includes the decision to remove or provide you with life-sustaining treatment, he added. The agent will start making decisions for you when your doctor determines that you are not able to make health care decisions for yourself, said Ortiz. Ortiz said the patient may also write on the proxy form examples of treatments that he or she would not desire to have as well as the ones you would want to receive. The best part of the proxy is you don’t need a lawyer, but you do need two witnesses – both of whom cannot be the health care agent or an alternate agent, he said. Ortiz said the health care agent must be at least 18 years old, and it is a good idea to have one so as to avoid conflict or confusion among family members and/or significant others. It is important that you have open and frank discussions concerning your health with your agent in order to put him or her in a better position to serve your interests, Ortiz said. This includes whether you want continued life support if you are in a permanent coma, continued treatments if you have a terminal illness, or if you wanted artificial nutrition and hydration. Ortiz said all hospitals, nursing homes, doctors and other health care providers are legally required to provide your health care agent with the same information that would be provided to you and to honor the decisions by your agent as if they were you. However, if the agent or alternate agent is unavailable, unable or unwilling to act when decisions must be made, the health care providers will make health care decisions for you following instructions you gave while still able to do so, he said. Ortiz said if you change your mind, it is easy to cancel the Health Care Proxy by simply filling out a new form. You can also put an expiration date on your current proxy, he said. Ortiz noted that a Health Care Proxy is not the same as a living will. Unlike the latter, a Health Care Proxy does not require that you know in advance all the decisions that may arise. Instead, your health care agent can interpret your wishes as medical circumstances change and can make decisions you could not have known would have to be made, he said. Ortiz suggested that a copy of the proxy be given to your agent, your doctor, your attorney and any family members or close friends of your choosing. Also keep a copy in your wallet or purse or with other important papers, but not in a location where no one can access it, like a safe, he said. For more information on Health Care Proxies, log onto www.health.state.ny.us.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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