When it comes to making medical decisions for a person who is unable to speak for themselves, there are multiple tools that they can set up ahead of time to ensure their wishes are respected. The two primary ones are the health care proxy and the living will.
Health care proxy
The health care proxy is also called a medical power of attorney. This is a specific person who has been granted the power to make decisions for a person who has been incapacitated. This might be due to some event like a coma or surgery, or it might be permanent because of a degenerative mental condition like dementia. A person who is worried that they might fall victim to a condition like that will designate a health care proxy and give them the power to make specific kinds of choices. For example, the proxy might be allowed to make any kind of medical decision, or they might only be allowed to make a choice for life-preserving care. Their choices are legally binding.
A living will is not a person but a document. It contains lists of instructions, choices or wishes that the person wants to have followed on their behalf if they are incapacitated. Unlike a person, a document can’t adapt to circumstances, but it does have clarity, and everything can be laid out in black and white. It also allows for detailed contingencies or specific preferences for notable situations.
Both of these tools can be used together, or you can use just one or the other. Either can provide the right support for your future needs, so consider them carefully.