As our loved ones plan for old age, they often take their health care into account. Beyond the costs, there are other questions to consider. That includes who should speak for them should they become unable to do so for themselves.

This person is known as a health care proxy or health care agent. It’s a role many aging parents ask one of their children to take on, should the situation arise. So what does it entail?

The basics of a health care proxy

Our health care system gives patients a lot of choice about which medicines, treatments or procedures they are willing to try. But what happens when a person is not able to speak for themselves and tell doctors what they prefer?

New York has a Health Care Proxy Law. It allows adults to designate a health care proxy or agent. This proxy will take on the responsibility of dictating that individual’s medical care in the event they become incapacitated, whether it be due to a coma, dementia, accident or another debilitating event.

Health care providers, including those at hospitals, must follow the proxy’s direction for most medical choices. However, a proxy does not have free reign to make any decision they would like.

Limits on a proxy’s powers

When someone chooses a health care proxy, they can make that person’s powers as broad or narrow as they like. The person could leave each and every health care decision up to the proxy, or limit their decision-making responsibility to a few specific situations.

A health care proxy is obligated to follow the wishes of that individual. This could include:

  • Whether the person consents to specific types of life support
  • Whether certain treatments should be started or stopped based on a terminal diagnosis
  • Whether there are religious or spiritual beliefs medical care should adhere to
  • Instructions for organ or tissue donation

Being a health care agent is a significant responsibility. If an aging loved one asks you about taking on the role, it’s important to be open and honest about what that means. These types of conversations, while difficult, can help provide a loved one comfort and peace of mind as they plan for the future.