The Listen to Lawrence Letter: Specific Language for a Health Care Proxy
July 28, 2021
Dear Clients and Friends:
My last LISTEN TO LAWRENCE LETTER about health care proxies generated a ton of interest and questions from my readers, like this next one:
In addition to a DNR and naming one Health Care Proxy, what else is there that is important to include? I’m talking about the Do Not Nourish or whatever it would be called. This is different than resuscitate but a feeding tube for 30 days is not what I’d want. Besides telling my HCP, what do I do?
Thanks for your question. Let’s try and break this down. A health care proxy (HCP) is a simple document that says WHO can make your health care decisions, not usually what those decisions should be. You can put specific instructions in an HCP but we normally do not. The HCP is meant to give broad authority to the agent whom you trust to carry out your wishes. Specific authority to do or not do things may limit this broad discretion and lead to different interpretations as to your intentions by outside parties. It is better to put your instructions in a separate document.
A DNR is not found within the HCP but is a form you can sign that provides that you do not want to be resuscitated if you stop breathing or your heart stops. You can sign a DNR or your health care proxy agent can sign a DNR. If there is other guidance that you wish to give your health care proxy agent, then these would be put in a separate document.
This separate document is a LIVING WILL.
A LIVING WILL is a separate document where you can spell out, in as much detail as you want, how you want your health care proxy agent to act on your behalf. It also lets your whole family know your thoughts on life-ending issues, avoiding questions by them as to what they think you would have wanted.
A LIVING WILL is where you may say don’t feed me if I can’t communicate and have no hope of recovery. You may also go further and say that not only do you not want artificial nutrition and hydration (feeding tubes), but you also do not want hand-feeding either (more controversial). All you may want at some point is to be made as comfortable as possible. On the other hand, a blanket statement of “no feeding tubes” may make no sense if after 30 days you can be weaned off of it and return to a fruitful life. Absolutes only really work when you have a crystal ball. It is better to spell out your general wishes in a LIVING WILL and trust that this guidance will be considered by your health care proxy, who you trust and hope will carry out your wishes while balancing them against the reality of your overall situation.
I hope this helps! Please forward this information to your friends and relatives to share these informative answers to some very commonly asked questions.
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Until next time…
peace, health and happiness,
Lawrence Eric Davidow