ER Attendant: “Do you have a living will?”
ER Attendant: “Do you have a health care proxy?”
While sitting in the waiting room of the Emergency Room the other night I heard this same interaction approximately 15 times. Although there were different patients, their answers remained the same. This got me thinking that you all need to know how important these documents are.
It is so important that we protect ourselves especially in emergencies. Remember the old adage; always wear clean underwear in the event of an accident. Well I’m here to tell you that you should all have a living will and a health care proxy.
Now for the legal part of this post:
What is a living will? In simple terms, a living will is a written statement of an individual’s wishes regarding the medical treatment that person wishes to have or not have in the event that person becomes unable to make medical decisions. Such inability to make medical decisions can be as a result of an accident, illness or advanced age. A living will is also known as an advanced directive for health care.
What is a health care proxy directive? A health care proxy directive is also known as a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care for the Appointment of a Health Care Representative. This document allows you to appoint an agent who is empowered to make health care decisions for you in the event you are unable to do so. Generally you assign someone that you know well and trust to carry out your directives. You should make sure to ask this person if they agree to act as your agent. It is important that this person be assertive and calm under pressure, as he/she may have to make some very difficult decisions.
Why should I have a living will and health care proxy directive? In the event you become disabled and are unable to make your own decisions, don’t you want your wishes about the kinds of medical treatment you do or do not want to receive to be carried out. In the event you do not have a living will and health care proxy directive, those important decisions can be left up to estranged family members, doctors or sometimes even judges, who may know very little about what you prefer.
Are living wills and health care proxy directives legal? Yes. New Jersey Statute 26:2H-54 (1992) specifically authorizes an individual to execute an Advance Directive, and to appoint another as proxy for health care decisions. Advance Directives are recognized in all 50 states.
When these documents are drafted you should provide your family members, friends and doctors with copies.
If you do not have these documents, contact me so I can help you be prepared.