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Who is the right person to be your health care proxy?

If you have accepted the challenge to create a comprehensive plan for your estate, you have quickly realized that the process can be quite complex. It often involves some deep soul searching to find the answers to complicated questions regarding the end of your life.

One question you may be considering is, "Whom should I choose to be my health care proxy?" Since the person in this role has many delicate decisions to make on your behalf, you do not want to make this choice hastily or before examining every logical possibility.

Strength of character

Your health care proxy has a grave responsibility. You give this person authority to make medical decisions in your name if you are unable to speak for yourself or express your wishes. You want someone to be ready to speak up for you when you are too ill, if complications arise during a surgical procedure, or if you cannot express your concerns about treatment options because you are unconscious or mentally incapacitated. Some characteristics of a good health care proxy include these:

  • Understands the responsibilities involved and agrees to provide this service for you
  • Has a clear understanding of your wishes for various circumstances, such as when you want extraordinary lifesaving measures and when you want doctors to withhold further treatment
  • Is trustworthy to abide by your wishes even if they conflict with his or her own beliefs
  • Has enough strength of conviction to stand up to other family members who dispute your proxy's decisions
  • Is willing and able to ask questions of your medical team and challenge any treatments that contradict your wishes
  • Does not have a conflict of interests, such as an inheritance from you that might alter his or her decisions about your care
  • Lives close enough to respond in an emergency

You should not feel obligated to select anyone, even your spouse, who does not have the courage or understanding to advocate for you. You will want to have some long and difficult conversations with your chosen proxy as you clarify your wishes about the kind of care you want in certain situations. You may also find it comforting to meet with an attorney who can help you understand your options, express your wishes clearly and complete any legal documents the state of Massachusetts requires.

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