Who should be my healthcare proxy?

When you choose who is going to be your healthcare proxy, you are effectively picking the person who is going to be responsible for determining the course of your medical care in the event you are unable to make your own care-related decisions. So this isn’t like finding a babysitter, where you can just fire them and pick a new one if you don’t like the job they’re doing. If you pick the wrong healthcare proxy, you are likely incapacitated to the point where you can’t fire your current one. So really, you get one chance to get this right. It’s kind of a big deal.

So who do you choose as your healthcare proxy?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. For example, if we said to pick your spouse and you either aren’t married currently or your spouse disagrees vehemently with you on potential courses of treatment, your spouse would be a terrible choice for your healthcare proxy. If we said to pick your brother, but you don’t have any brothers, or your brother lives internationally and is frequently out of contact for long periods of time while he “finds himself,” then he’s probably not the best bet either. So there isn’t a clear-cut answer for the person you should choose as your healthcare proxy.

But there is a process for picking one. And that’s what we’re going to share with you.

Here’s a basic list of qualities you want in a healthcare proxy:

      • Someone who is willing to listen to you regarding the path of treatment you prefer and what your wishes are for major decisions, such as whether to continue life support. Your healthcare proxy is tasked with handling big decisions, and you want someone who is going to take your choices into account, not just what they want for you.
      • Someone who is accessible and available to make decisions on a regular basis. Your healthcare proxy cannot be off the grid or have required travel that prevents them from being there to make decisions. An absence of a decision is still a decision, so you want someone who is choosing to be there with you.
      • Someone who understands how to deal with our medical system and administrators. If you’ve ever spent any time in a hospital, you know that advocating for yourself and your care is important. When you are incapacitated, you need someone who is going to go to battle for you. Personality and their willingness to do so is incredibly important to making sure your wishes are implemented through them.
      • Someone who can take emotion out of the equation to a certain extent. You may be really, really close to a certain person in your life. That closeness may be great for day-to-day living, but it could make it a real challenge for that person to act on your behalf if their emotions get in the way of them doing what you want or fighting for you in the right way.
      • Someone who can act independently. Some people may want to choose multiple proxies, which creates the potential for a disagreement and a legal fight when all focus should be on providing for your care. A single healthcare proxy prevents this from happening, keeping the focus on you and your wishes, as opposed to legal battles over someone else’s.

This framework is intended to give you some questions to ask yourself about who may fit these criteria.

You are unlikely to find someone who fits all of them – none of us are perfect. But you still may find a “best fit” as you go through your mental list of the people in your life and who you may want making medical decisions if you’re unable to make them yourself. That person may be someone in your family, or someone with a little more distance, but you want to choose someone who is a good fit based on these criteria and not just the person you see most often or the person who is most important to you.