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Health care agents

Durable power of attorney for health care; Health care proxy; End-of-life - health care agent; Life support treatment - health care agent; Respirator - health care agent; Ventilator - health care agent; Power of attorney - health care agent; POA - health care agent; DNR - health care agent; Advance directive - health care agent; Do-not-resuscitate - health care agent; Living will - health care agent

When you are unable to speak for yourself due to an illness, your health care providers may be unclear as to what type of care you would like.

A health care agent is someone you choose to make health care decisions for you when you cannot.

I Would Like to Learn About:

What is a Health Care Agent?

A health care agent is also called a health care proxy. This person will act only when you are not able to.

Why Have a Health Care Agent?

Your family members may be uncertain or disagree about the type of medical care you would like to or should receive. Decisions about your medical care may then be made by doctors, hospital administrators, a court-appointed guardian, or judges.

A health care agent, chosen by you, can help your providers, family, and friends make decisions during a stressful time.

Your agent's duty is to see that your wishes are followed. If your wishes are not known, your agent should try to decide what you want.

Health care agents are not required, but they are the best way to be sure your wishes for health care treatment are followed.

What Can a Health Care Agent Do?

If you have an advance care directive, your health care agent can make sure your wishes are followed. Your agent's choices come before anyone else's wishes for you.

If you do not have an advance care directive, your health care agent will be the one to help your providers make important choices.

Your health care agent has no control over your money. Your agent also cannot be made to pay your bills.

What a health care agent can and cannot do differs by state. Check your state laws. In most states, health care agents can:

Before you choose a health care agent, you should find out whether your state allows a health care agent to do the following:

Choosing Your Health Care Agent

Choose a person who knows your treatment wishes and is willing to carry them out. Be sure to tell your agent what is important to you.

Talk to each person you are thinking of naming as your agent or alternate. Do this before you decide who should carry out your wishes. Your agent should be:

In many states, your agent cannot be:

What You Need to Do

Think of your beliefs about life-sustaining treatment, which is the use of equipment to prolong your life when your body organs stop working well.

A health care proxy is a legal paper that you fill out. You can get a form online, at your doctor's office, hospital, or senior citizen centers.

A health care proxy is not an advance care directive. An advance care directive is a written statement that can include your health care wishes. Unlike an advance care directive, the health care proxy allows you to name a health care agent to carry out those wishes if you cannot.

You can change your mind about health care choices at any time. If you do change your mind or if your health changes, talk to your doctor. Be sure to tell your health care agent about any changes in your wishes.


Burns JP, Truog RD. Ethical considerations in managing critically ill patients. In: Parrillo JE, Dellinger RP, eds. Critical Care Medicine: Principles of Diagnosis and Management in the Adult. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 68.

Iserson KV, Heine CE. Bioethics. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap e6.

Lee BC. End-of-life issues. In: Ballweg R, Brown D, Vetrosky DT, Ritsema TS, eds. Physician Assistant: A Guide to Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 20.


Review Date: 1/18/2022  

Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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