Crosses to Bear: Health Care Proxies and How Religious Beliefs May Affect Them

July 1, 2012

Halbert

A Massachusetts Health Care Proxy, once properly executed, allows you to appoint another to make health care decisions for you at a time when you can not make informed decisions about your own health care, or cannot communicate those decisions.

If the seriousness of health care decisions were to run on a continuum the size of a football field, the authority under a health care proxy would expand over about 93 of those yards. One end of the field covers the mundane decisions like whether to get a flu shot, while the other end considers insertion of a feeding tube and other life-extending treatments.

As for those final yards, those are reserved for those who leave direct instructions for a physician. One way for you to give instructions to a treating physician about life and death preferences is to articulate your preferences in the context of a health care proxy. The other is to express them in a living will declaration, which may be its own stand-alone document. Either way, so long as certain requests and instructions are articulated, your physician will have the authority to act if or when the situation arises. Additionally, a do not resuscitate (DNR) order can be completed through your doctor's office. While a DNR does not instruct a physician to affirmatively act, it does prohibit resuscitation or restarting of your heart.

The right to have proper health care, or the right to die and the circumstances under which you may want to terminate life support are extremely personal. Not all treatment or end-of-life decisions are cut and dried, and there may be no obvious best decision for family and loved ones who must try to balance what they believe to be your wishes against their own tangled web of emotions at what is likely to be a very difficult time.

To attempt to resolve this, many people execute what is called a health care proxy. This document outlines the circumstances under which you want to be kept alive by use of medical technology, and it designates a health care agent (agent) to make medical decisions in the event that you cannot do so for yourself.

But how does religion impact such important decisions? What if the patient and the agent have conflicting beliefs regarding medical treatment and end of life decisions? ...

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by: Lisa L. Halbert

Healthcare News
July 2012

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