A Unique and Important New Year’s Resolution for Your Health


By Sharon Arkoff, social worker, Emerson Hospital

It’s a new year! And if you are like most people, maybe you are contemplating positive new goals such as eating right, exercising, getting more sleep, and being a healthier you. Your physician might have one more important goal for you this year: Complete a health care proxy form and put your health directives in writing. Doing so will help ensure that your wishes for your own medical treatment will be carried out if you ever become unable to make decisions for yourself.

“No one likes to think of having a medical crisis where they can’t speak for themselves, but we all should be prepared for this situation,” explains Margaret Foley, director of care management at Emerson Hospital. “Having a designated health care proxy guarantees that the person making decisions about your medical care is the person you want making those decisions.”

The start of a new year is a great time to talk with your health care proxy about how you define quality of life. Foley explains that for people with serious illnesses, measures like CPR or intubation (inserting a breathing tube attached to a mechanical ventilator) can be painful and may not be successful, or could mean a slow and perhaps incomplete recovery. “Everyone has the right to and should take the opportunity to choose what is best for them.”

Having your health care proxy and your advanced directives in writing is especially important in Massachusetts, where, unlike some other states, your spouse or adult children are not automatically your health care decision-makers. Without a signed and witnessed health care proxy form, decisions might have to be made by a hospital or a court-appointed guardian — who may or may not be a family member or friend.

“I feel good about having signed a health care proxy form and distributing it to my family,” said Christine Wilson, who was recently in the hospital at Emerson. “I feel good that I know who is going to be making decisions, and that we have talked about what I want. Since we talked about it when it was not a crisis, and it was just something for the future, it was not an emotional or overwhelming discussion.”

Health care proxy forms and advanced directives for medical care are available for free in your doctor’s office and online. You also can call the Emerson Hospital Care Management Department at 978-287-3171 to schedule an appointment with a social worker who can complete a health care proxy form with you, free of charge. 

So in between trips to the gym, eating right, and getting some sleep, check in with your physician and put your health care proxy and advance directives in writing. That will be one New Year’s resolution achieved, and achieved your way!

Important Note

It is best to work with your health care provider when completing your health care proxy form and putting your advance directives in writing. A physician’s signature may be required to make advanced directives such as “do not resuscitate” and “do not intubate” into legal orders in Massachusetts. Blank health care proxy forms and advance directives forms, often called the MOLST form (Massachusetts Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment) can be found online, including: