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|This article's factual accuracy is disputed. (August 2010)|
A health care proxy is a document (legal instrument) with which a patient (primary individual) appoints an agent to legally make healthcare decisions in behalf of the patient, when he or she is incapable of making and executing the healthcare decisions stipulated in the proxy. Once the health care proxy is effective, the primary individual continues making healthcare decisions as long as he or she is legally competent to decide. Moreover, in legal-administrative function, the health care proxy is a legal instrument akin to a "springing" health care power of attorney.
Some jurisdictions place limitations on the persons who can act as agents. (Some forbid the appointment of treating physicians as the health care proxy.) In any event the agent should be someone close to and trusted by the primary individual.
The agent is empowered when a qualified physician determines that the primary individual is unable to make decisions regarding health care. The agent has the power to remove or sustain feeding tubes from the primary individual if these tubes are the only things that are keeping the primary individual alive. The agent's decision stems from knowledge of the patient's desire in this matter. If the primary individual made his or her wishes clear on the proxy form, then they must be followed despite any possible objections from the agent. Beyond this matter, if there are no limitations on the health care proxy form, the agent can make most other decisions in accordance with what the primary individual would have wanted. However, an individual may have identified their end-of-life decisions in a living will or advanced health care directive that may supersede the agent's authority granted in the health care proxy depending on the language of the interrelated documents and state law. An agent will not be legally or financially liable for decisions made on behalf of the primary individual as long as they take into account the primary individual's wishes and beliefs.
Health care proxies are permitted in forty-nine states as well as the District of Columbia. Health care forms may differ in structure from state to state and pre-made forms are not compulsory as long as certain guidelines are met. The common guidelines include:
In England and Wales, an independent mental health capacity advocate may be appointed under the Mental Capacity Act 2005; the provisions made in the same Act for a lasting power of attorney may also provide a satisfactory basis for providing care via an attorney, who does not require to be professionally qualified. Different arrangements apply elsewhere in the UK.