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Patients & Visitors' Guide

Health Care Proxy 

Addison Gilbert and Beverly hospitals provide excellent health care to patients, affording people the right to choose their medical treatment.  What would happen if you were unable to make or communicate your wishes?  That is when an advance directive is helpful.

An advance directive is a document that you may sign or verbally confirm, which gives instructions about your health care.  If you become unable to make decisions, your physicians and loved ones will use those instructions to guide your treatment.

The Health Care Proxy

The Health Care Proxy is an advance directive in which you name another person as your health care agent.  Your agent can then make medical decisions if you become unable to make them for yourself.  This type of advance directive, the Health Care Proxy, is a legal document in Massachusetts and the law upholds it.

The Health Care Proxy takes effect only if your physician decides that you are unable to make or communicate your decisions.  It ceases being effective as soon as you recover that ability.

While the proxy is in effect, your agent can make decisions for you, just as if you were making them for yourself.  This may include permission to:

  • Perform surgery
  • Use or to stop life support machines
  • Administer medicine or CPR

The only decisions that an agent cannot make are the ones you specify on the Health Care Proxy form and those regarding pain management.  Your physicians can manage your pain to make you comfortable with or without permission from your agent.

This type of advance directive is similar to the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care used by some other states.  If you fill out a Health Care Proxy form while at Addison Gilbert or Beverly Hospital, it is effective throughout the country.

The Living Will

The Living Will is an advance directive in which you state in simple terms what medical care you would or would not want if you could not make decisions.  Most Living Wills require that you be diagnosed with a life threatening disease before they become effective.

Some examples of statements used in Living Wills include, "Do not place me on a machine, or "Don't use heroic measures to keep me alive."  This information is often helpful in informing your physicians and loved ones about how you feel.  However, it is not always detailed enough to be useful in a specific situation.

Another disadvantage to the Living Will is that there are no laws in Massachusetts to ensure that it will be followed properly.

Without an Advance Directive

Filling out an advance directive is entirely optional.  No hospital, physician or insurance company can require you to do so.

If you have not filled out an advance directive and you should need one, the treatment team (physicians, nurses and others) will do the best they can without it.  They will talk with members of your family to reach an adequate decision about your care.  Usually, this is a very simple process.  Sometimes, however, there are difficult questions, such as "Who should be the spokesperson for the family?" or "What if the family and physicians disagree about what to do?"  By completing an advance directive, you help avoid this uncertainty.

If You Change Your Mind

If you wish to stop your advance directive from taking effect, all you need to do is let someone know, verbally or in writing.  You can also revoke an advance directive by destroying it.

To make changes to an advance directive, just fill out a new one.  The new one will automatically replace the older versions you have.  If you want to change or revoke your advance directive, let your physician and hospital staff know immediately.

Getting Started

If you are interested in filling out a Health Care Proxy form, you are encouraged to discuss these important issues with your physician, your family and your friends.  If you decide you want more information about advance directives, please call the social work department of the hospital.  You will be put in touch with staff that is prepared to help you.

At Addison Gilbert and Beverly hospitals, we use the Health Care Proxy type of advance directive.  If the Living Will or another type of advance directive appeals to you, we recommend also completing a Health Care Proxy form to designate someone as your health care agent. Then, spend some time talking with your agent about your feelings, your values and your preferences.  Once you have completed an advance directive, keep a copy for your own files, give a copy to your agent and also be sure that your physician and hospital have copies.

Advance Care Planning