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Selecting a Health Care Agent

What is a Health Care Agent?

A health care agent is someone you choose in advance to make decisions for your medical care if a time comes when you are unable to make decisions for yourself. To make your choice known, name the person you want to serve as your agent by completing the form for appointing a health care agent. Everyone 18 years of age or older with decisional capacity should appoint a health care agent.

What are the Benefits of Having an Agent?

  • An agent has all the rights that you would have to access the medical information necessary to make informed decisions on your behalf. He or she can talk with your health care providers about your changing medical condition and authorize treatment or have it withdrawn as circumstances change, consistent with your wishes and values.
  • If you name an agent, you reduce the possibility of doubts or disagreements about who you wanted to make decisions on your behalf.
  • No matter how clear you are about the kinds of care and treatment you would or would not want in certain circumstances, some medical situations cannot be predicted ahead of time. An agent can work with the health care team to figure out what to do when a specific situation arises that you did not foresee.
  • Your agent is your advocate. If healthcare providers resist following your wishes, your agent will work with them and take any other necessary steps to see that your wishes are honored.

Who should be my Agent?

  • Your health care agent should be someone you trust who is willing to ask questions of your healthcare team in order to get the information they need to make an informed decision.
  • Your agent will need to advocate on your behalf and may need to be assertive to ensure that your wishes about medical treatments are respected and honored.
  • Your agent will need to know as much as possible about your goals, wishes and values concerning medical care and treatment so that he or she can make decisions in situations you might not have anticipated. So select someone who knows you well or someone who understands your goals, wishes and values. Even if you aren't sure what kinds of care and treatment you would want, it's important to have someone you trust making decisions for you.
  • Usually people name a close friend or family member as their agent. But don't assume that the people closest to you will "just know" what you want. The best way to spare an agent from later guilt or uncertainty about a decision he or she may need to make on your behalf is to talk with the agent in advance about your views on quality of life and about treatments that you know you do and do not want in various medical situations.
  • Take special care to discuss with your agent your wishes regarding end-of-life medical treatment.
  • Not everyone is comfortable with the responsibility of being a health care agent; therefore, it is very important to have an honest discussion with the person you want to appoint before you do so.
  • Your health care agent must be 18 years of age or older.
  • Your agent should be someone who is readily accessible to talk with your health care providers, either in person or by phone.