Advanced Care Directives

Massachusetts Health Care Proxy

Frequently Asked Questions About the Massachusetts Health Care Proxy

What is a Health Care Proxy?

It is a simple, legal document that enables a patient to appoint someone they trust to make health care decisions if the patient is unable to do so. These decisions include life-saving procedures such as CPR, life-sustaining treatments such as tube feedings and respirators, as well as other procedures such as consent for surgery, blood transfusions, pain medications and other routine tests.

In Massachusetts, the Living Will is not a replacement for a Health Care Proxy, as in other states. The person you choose as your Health Care Proxy should be someone who knows what decisions you would make for yourself if you were able to do so. Most people choose a relative or close friend.

What does the Health Care Proxy Law allow?

The Health Care Proxy is a simple legal document that allows you to name someone you know and trust to make health care decisions for you if, for any reason and at any time, you become unable to make or communicate those decisions. It is an important document, however, because it concerns not only the choices you make about your health care, but also the relationships you have with your physician, family and others who may be involved with your care. Read this and follow the instructions to ensure that your wishes are honored.

Under the Health Care Proxy Law (Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 201D), any competent adult 18 years of age or over may use this form to appoint a Health Care Agent. You (known as the "Principal") can appoint any adult EXCEPT the administrator, operator or employee of a health care facility such as a hospital or nursing home where you are a patient or resident UNLESS that person is also related to you by blood, marriage or adoption.

What can my Agent do?

Your Agent will make decisions about your health care only when you are, for some reason, unable to do that yourself. This means that your Agent can act for you if you are temporarily unconscious, in a coma, or have some other condition in which you cannot make or communicate health care decisions. 

Your Agent cannot act for you until your doctor determines, in writing, that you lack the ability to make health care decisions. Your doctor will tell you of this if there is any sign that you would understand it. 

Acting with your authority, your Agent can make any health care decision that you could, if you were able. If you give your Agent full authority to act for you, he or she can consent to or refuse any medical treatment, including treatment that could keep you alive.

Your Agent will make decisions for you only after talking with your doctor or health care provider, and after fully considering all the option regarding diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of your illness or condition. Your Agent has the legal right to get any information, including confidential medical information, necessary to make informed decisions for you.

Your Agent will make health care decisions for you according to your wishes or according to his/her assessment of your wishes, including your religious or moral beliefs. You may wish to talk first with your doctor, religious advisor, or other people before giving instructions to your agent. It is very important that you talk with your Agent so that he or she knows what is important to you. If your Agent does not know what your wishes would be in a particular situation, your Agent will decide based on what he or she thinks would be in your best interests. After your doctor has determined that you lack the ability to make health care decisions, if you still object to any decision made by your Agent, your own decisions will be honored unless a Court determines that you lack capacity to make health care decisions.

Your Agent's decisions will have the same authority as yours would, if you were able, and will be honored over those of any other person, except for nay limitation you yourself made, or except for a Court Order specifically overriding the Proxy.

How can I revoke or cancel the document?

Your Health Care Proxy is revoked when any of the following four things happens:

  1. You sign another Health Care Proxy later on.
  2. You legally separate from or divorce your spouse who is named in the Proxy as your Agent.
  3. You notify your agent, your doctor, or other health care provider, orally or in writing that you want to revoke your Health Care proxy.
  4. You do anything else that clearly shows you want to revoke the Proxy, for example, tearing up or destroying the Proxy, crossing it out, telling other people, etc.

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