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 her feelings regarding life support or end of life treatment. The family has little guidance and may feel burdened by the responsibility of making such a decision.
A Living Will is your directive to your family, health care providers, religious leader, 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 and provisions on organ donation.
A Durable Health Care Power of Attorney is an equally important document which gives you an element of control when you are incapacitated and cannot make or communicate decisions. The Durable Health Care Power of Attorney appoints an Agent 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 should be a Durable power, which means it stays in effect even though you become incapacitated or incompetent. It should grant your Agent permission to talk with your doctors, make decisions for you, consent or withdraw consent for treatment, access your medical records, and arrange for your care at home or in a facility. The powers granted to your Agent can be broad or limited, according to your desire and need. With recent federal privacy laws, health care providers do not communicate with a third party about a patient in the absence of a Durable 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 illness. Communicate your decisions to your family and give your Agent the legal authority to enforce your decisions.