In a previous post titled Health Care Proxy: What is Their Role in My Health Care Decisionmaking?, we discussed the role of health care proxies in your end of life planning and what capabilities they have regarding your medical treatment in the event you are not able to make your own decisions due to incapacity. In New York, naming a health care proxy is commonly done along with the formation of a living will. A living will is another type of advanced directive, it is a written statement that outlines what the patient seeks to have done regarding his or her medical treatment, in the event of incapacity or unconscious. A health care proxy will carry out the terms of a living will when there is one on record, instead of making the medical decisions for the patient which is their traditional role. A living will puts the patient’s loved ones on notice of what the patient’s wishes are and ensures they are carried out.
Interestingly, in New York, legislation has not given guidance as to the right of an incapacitated individual to have their last rights respected. However, courts in New York will, through clear and convincing evidence, attempt to respect those wishes if there is a way for them to be known, i.e. through a written document such as a living will. In the living will, you can state which treatments you wish to refuse in the event that they are being considered for treating your condition. Many forum living wills state that in the event of irreversible physical or mental condition, either due to terminal illness, permanent unconscious condition, or minimal consciousness but inability to make decisions, the patient can decide whether they wish for treatment to be withheld. You can also indicate in which scenarios, such as cardiac resuscitation, artificial feeding, mechanical respiration or refusal of antibiotics, you wish for treatment to be administered or withheld.
When it comes to terminal illness, majority of doctors are quick to respect the wishes of a patient who has completed a living will. Terminal illness is generally the most common and uncontroversial example of a situation where a patient’s living will being recognized by the court. However, situations such as permanent disability have been more difficult to apply living wills to. While some people view disability as an intolerable condition in which they would rather cease living than to have a lesser quality of life, doctors have a difficult time because many people will show signs of improvement over time in situations such as a traumatic accident or episode in which they are left in a lesser state than before.
It is beneficial for everyone to not only appoint a healthcare proxy in the event of incapacitation, but also declare a living will so that your wishes may be respected and you can either die with dignity or receive life sustaining measures. Make sure to discuss your decisions with your family and friends, then everyone will be able to make sure you are respected.