Your Right to Decide About Treatment

Adults in New York State have the right to accept or refuse medical treatment, including lifesustaining treatment. Our Constitution and state laws protect this right. This means that you have the right to request or consent to treatment, to refuse treatment before it has started, and to have treatment stopped once it has begun.

Planning in Advance

Sometimes because of illness or injury people are unable to talk to a doctor and decide about treatment for themselves. You may wish to plan in advance to make sure that your wishes about treatment will be followed if you became unable to decide for yourself for a short or a long time period. If you don’t plan ahead, family members or other people close to you may not be allowed to make decisions for you and follow your wishes.

In New York State, appointing someone you can trust to decide about treatment if you become unable to decide for yourself is the best way to protect your treatment wishes and concerns. You have the right to appoint someone by filling out a form called a Health Care Proxy. A copy of the form and information about the Health Care Proxy are available from your health care provider.

If you have no one you can appoint to decide for you, or do not want to appoint someone you can also give specific instructions about treatment in advance. Those instructions can be written, and are often referred to as a Living Will.

You should understand that general instructions about refusing treatment, even if written down, may not be effective. Your instructions must clearly cover the treatment decisions that must be made. For example, if you just write down that you do not want “heroic measures” the instructions may not be specific enough. You should say the kind of treatment that you do not want, such as respirator or chemotherapy, and describe the medical condition.

Appointing Your Health Care Agent

A new law called the New York health care proxy law allows you to appoint someone you trust — for example, a family member or close friend —to decide about treatment if you lose the ability to decide for yourself. You can do this by using a Health Care Proxy form like the one inside, to appoint your “health care agent.”

This law gives you the power to make sure that health care professionals follow your
wishes. Your agent can also decide how your wishes apply as your medical condition changes. Hospitals, doctors and other health care providers must follow your agent’s decisions as if they were your own.

You can give the person you select, your health care agent, as little or as much authority as you want. You can allow your agent to decide about all health care or only certain treatments. You may also give your agent instructions that he or she has to follow.

Why should I choose a health care agent?

If you become too sick to make health care decisions, someone else must decide for you.
Health care professionals often look to family members for guidance. But family members are not allowed to decide to stop treatment, even when they believe that is what you would choose or what is best for you under the circumstances. Appointing an agent lets you control your medical treatment by:

  • allowing your agent to stop treatment when he or she decides that is what you would want or what is best for you under the circumstances.
  • choosing one family member to decide about treatment because you think that person would make the best decisions or because you want to avoid conflict or confusion about who should decide;
  • and choosing someone outside your family to decide about treatment because no one in your family is available or because you prefer that someone other than a family member decide about your Health care.

How can 1 appoint a health care agent?

All competent adults can appoint a health care agent by signing a form called a Health Care Proxy. You don’t need a lawyer, just two adult witnesses. You can use the form printed here, but you don’t have to.

When would my health care agent begin to make treatment decisions for me?

Your health care agent would begin to make treatment decisions after doctors decide that you are not able to make health cate decision. As long as you are able to make treatment decisions for yourself, you will have the right to do so.

What decisions can my health care agent make?

Unless you limit your health care agent’s authority, your agent will be able to make any treatment decision that you could have made if you were able to decide for yourself. Your agent can agree that you should receive treatment, choose among different treatments and decide that treatments should not be provided, in accord with

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