Written by David G, Knitter
The case of Terri Schiavo brought to the national forefront the importance of having well written and clearly stated Advanced Health Care Directives (also referred to as a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare). After having the privilege of personally speaking with one of the attorneys involved in the Schiavo case, it became clear to me how our legal system can break down if important documents are not in place. Shiavo was a “straightforward” matter from the perspective that it was not uncommon situation. Family members or spouses often have different views as to what their loved one wanted when it comes to life support or medication for pain relief. Even with documents in place there can be lack of clarity to direct those thrust into the decision making process of these very important and personal decisions.
The presence of ambiguity and two sides having a different belief as to what Terri Shiavo wanted led to 8 years of litigation, numerous appeals, and an emotional scar on all of the participants. On no less than 3 occasions was the process of withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment commenced. On one of these occasions, the court to not issue a binding Order until the third day of withdrawal of life sustaining treatment. Even if we cannot agree as to “who” was right, we can agree that this should not have happened. It should not take 8 years of court battles to resolve these issues.
There is a solution to this problem. A complete, clear and well drafted Advance health Care Directive and an open conversation with your spouse, family and doctors before the crisis. We know we should do this, but we are reluctant to discuss these personal issues or take the time to put are important wishes in writing. Without written direction and a clear understanding of your wishes, those you love will be forced to “guess” what you want for critical care such as life sustaining treatment, end of life pain relief, and the like.
Crucial issues to address in the Directive include but are not limited to
- Remaining in one’s personal residence if possible or limiting right to sell residence
- type of life sustaining treatment, if any
- HIPPA release
- limits of decision making authority of agent and naming successor agents
- Desire to dispose of remains
- level of pain relief desired, if any
- organ donation/autopsy
- When authority of agent becomes effective
- limits of types of testing, treatment, surgical procedures
- selecting physicians
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