We have all read about the very public drama and personal tragedy to the Schiavo/Schindler families. The failure of Terri Schiavo to have a written document expressing her wishes for medical treatment was the “core” issue for her family and the courts that reviewed her case.
Regardless of your age or health, you should give serious consideration to executing some type of document that states your desires as to future medical treatment if you are unable to voice these desires yourself due to illness. The correct document will not only ensure that your wishes are honored legally, it will also ease the burden from your family members to make such decisions on your behalf.
In deciding whether to execute a living will, health care power of attorney and health care proxy (“medical directive”), you should consider the following issues:
- What are your desires with regard to receiving artificial nutrition and hydration?
- Do you wish to limit transfusions to blood provided by family members or friends, or would you rather rely upon the hospital’s blood supply?
- Are there certain medical treatments or pain control measures that you would like to be sure to have and others that you would like to refuse?
- Do you wish to refuse treatment if the treatment means greater dependency upon others?
- Do you wish to refuse treatment if the treatment means having to suffer chronic pain?
- Do you wish to take pain medication that will reduce or eliminate the ability to communicate and may even hasten your death?
- Do you have a particular medical condition for which you want to dictate the types of treatments you would prefer or refuse in light of this condition?
- Do you wish to state your preference between home care and nursing home care, or will you allow your Agent for Health Care to make placement decisions?
- Who will serve as your Agent for Health Care? Who will serve as the alternate?
- Do you have any particular wishes regarding any of the following:
- Religious preferences
- Disposition of your body
- Donation of bodily parts for transplants or research.
The preparation and execution of the medical directive serves two very important purposes. First, it allows the health care decision-making process to stay within the context of the physician-patient-family relationship. Without a medical directive, your family may be forced to ask a judge to grant someone the power to make your medical decisions. Second, it prevents internal disputes among family members who may disagree about the degree of medical care to be given to a family member. The medical directive should be a basic part of everyone’s estate and life planning, especially for a caregiver of an elderly or disabled person.
The information presented in this article is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship with Bourne, Noll & Kenyon.