health-care proxy, legal document in which a person assigns to another person, usually called an agent or proxy, the authority to make medical decisions in case of incapacitation. It is, in essence, a power of attorney for health care. In many cases, the health-care proxy is used in conjunction with a living will that spells out the person's wishes regarding the extent of life-sustaining treatment desired at the end of life. It differs from a living will, however, in that the chosen agent has the authority to deal with any medical situation that may arise, not just end-of-life situations, and in that the agent can deal with circumstances not foreseen by the person in a living will. A health-care proxy gives a next of kin or other family member additional authority to make decisions; it can also be used to assign authority to someone outside the family. Health-care proxies go into effect when the attending physician determines that the patient lacks the capacity to make decisions. Prior to that time, the person retains all decision-making rights.
See publications of Choice in Dying.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.