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  • Kathy McNair, Esq.

What Is the Difference Between a Health Care Proxy, Advanced Directives, and a Do-Not-Resuscitate Or

Updated: Jan 23, 2020

What is a Health Care Proxy?

A health care proxy allows you to appoint someone to make medical decisions for you, in the event that you are incapable of making decisions or unable to communicate your own wishes. The person that you designate, will stand in your shoes, and make the decisions for you. The health care proxy is only allowed to act while you are incapable of making decisions. Given your condition, a health care proxy may need to decide whether you should have a ventilator, dialysis, tube feeding, blood transfusions, and other life- saving or life-prolonging options. For example, if you lapsed into a coma, for 24 hours but then awoke, your health care proxy would only have the power to make medical decisions for you during that 24 hour period.

Who should I choose as my Health Care Agent?

When choosing a health care agent, it is important that you pick someone that will honor your wishes. If you pick someone to be your agent, you should let them know how you feel about aggressive treatment when faced with a situation where you won’t recover.

What if I don't have anyone to appoint?

There are many seniors who don't have any close family members or friends to appoint. If you don't have anyone to appoint, in some cases, as elder law attorneys, we are willing to act in this role or we can recommend a social worker.

Why do I need a Health Care Proxy?

Without a health care proxy, if something unexpected happens to you and you can no longer make decisions for yourself regarding your health care, the court will need to appoint a guardian to make decisions for you. The decision will be out of your control. In some cases, a stranger could be appointed to make important life or death decisions for you.

Who should have a copy of my health care proxy?

Your health care agent and your physician should each have a copy of your healthy care proxy document and any advanced directives.

What is an advanced directive?

An advanced directive (also called "A Living Will")provides your health care agent with instructions on what type of care you would like. It provides greater details about your wishes regarding life support. An advanced directive, is a document that provides guidance to your health care agent. However, an advanced directive is not legally binding in Massachusetts. So, it is important that you pick an agent you can trust to make decisions according to your wishes. It is a very good idea to create advance directives in order to plan for the possibility that you may one day be unable to make your own medical decisions.

What is a "DNR" Order

A DNR says that if your heart stops or you stop breathing, medical professionals should not attempt to revive you. This is very different from a health care proxy, which only goes into effect if you are unable to communicate your wishes for care. Everyone can benefit from a health care proxy and advanced directives, while DNRs are only for very elderly and/or frail patients for whom it wouldn't make sense to administer CPR.

If you are interested in planning for your future or if you have immediate needs, please contact the Elder Law attorneys at Senior Solutions at 617-489-5900 or by email at We are caring Elder Law attorneys in the Greater Boston area, ready to help you with Medicaid and MassHealth Planning, Estate Planning, Guardianship, Conservatorship, Probate, and Special Needs Planning.

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