Have you encountered a situation where a critically ill family member is faced with life threatening decisions and is not able to communicate his wishes? The family gathers together and is faced with making extremely difficult decisions during times of intense emotional stress. The doctors ask what treatment should be provided or withheld. The ill family member never talked about it and the family has no guidance. They all wish their loved one had executed a Living Will.
A Living Will is your directive to your family members, medical providers, pastor, friends and community about what end-of-life medical treatment you desire to have or refuse. It speaks for you when you cannot. It is a gift to those who love you. It is your opportunity to stay in control of your medical treatment when you cannot make or communicate decisions yourself.
The Living Will at a minimum should address several factors: (1) terminal illness; (2) persistent vegetative state, including coma; and (3) artificial nutrition and hydration. Many also include a statement of spiritual or religious convictions, provisions on organ donation, and experimental medical treatment.
What provisions does your Living Will contain? You should have an attorney review your Living Will. If you received a form Living Will from the internet or a local hospital, chances are the form Living Will does not address persistent vegetative state or coma. This omission can be devastating because the medical community differentiates between a terminal condition and a persistent vegetative state. If your condition is terminal, then the Living Will has power and effect. If your condition is a persistent vegetative state, then the statutory form Living Will may not have power effect and you may be maintained in a persistent vegetative state even if you will likely never recover.
A Power of Attorney for Health Care is a similarly important document which gives you an element of control when you are incapacitated and cannot make or communicate decisions. The Power of Attorney for Health Care is a document which appoints an Agent, a person or persons to act for you and on your behalf in your best interest. The Agent is directed to follow the directives of your Living Will. The Health Care Power of Attorney is typically a Durable power, which means it stays in effect even though you become incapacitated or incompetent. It is a legal document which gives your Agent permission to talk with your doctors, make decisions for you, have access to your medical records, and arrange for your treatment. The powers can be broad or limited, according to your needs. With recent federal privacy laws, health care providers have become very reluctant to communicate with a third party about a patient in the absence of a health care power of attorney.
The Living Will and Durable Health Care Power of Attorney are essential planning documents for all ages and life circumstances. Take the time to do your planning and talk with your family about what you would want if faced with a serious and life changing illness. Don’t leave your loved ones in the dark and stay in control of your treatment.