Quite often, people can get confused and interchange the use of the term “living will” and “health care proxy”. While the two terms are not synonymous, they are often combined into one document known as a “Living Will and Health Care Proxy”.
Typically, the living will sets forth advanced medical directives for health care professionals and facilities in the event the person writing the living will is incapacitated and unable to make decisions regarding their course of care on their own. Usually the living will deals with “end-of-life” issues wherein the person may be in a comatose state or may not have a reasonable expectation of making any type of recovery. Quite often, the living will states that if the subject person has a terminal condition, it may be the desire of that individual to withdraw from any life-sustaining procedures if such procedures serve to prolong artificially the dying process. Such measures usually include artificial nutrition and hydration. Further, the typical living will may state that if the health care agent (proxy) in good faith determines that there is no reasonable expectation that the subject will regain a meaningful quality of life (i.e. persistent vegetative state), that no extraordinary life support, including CPR, mechanical breathing, or artificial hydration or nutrition be used. Furthermore, the living will states that such procedures may be used to preserve comfort, hygiene, and/or dignity, even if the use of such procedures may hasten death.
Of course, this living will is a very private and individual decision and one should be guided by their own beliefs, morals, and religious convictions.
The health care proxy is the person appointed by the person to act on their behalf in the event they are unable to render decisions regarding care on their own behalf. The term health care proxy is typically used interchangeably with the term health care agent. In the designation of the proxy (HCP), it is important to provide updated contact information (address/phone) in the event that person needs to be reached in an emergency. New York State hospitals are mandated to recognize the authority of a properly executed Living Will and Health Care Proxy.