Living Will – Get One

I don’t have a whole lot to contribute to the ongoing saga on the Terri Schaivo case down in Florida. As a Registered Nurse who has spent 13 years practicing in the area of palliative care and end-of-life – I can understand, sympathize and appreciate both sides of the case. Too many times to count, I have been involved in cases like this. Cases not quite as notorious or nationally publicized — but quiet cases battled out in the hearts and minds of families facing these very same issues and decisions.

In my practice, it is all about what the patient wants. Not about what the parents want. Not about what the kids want or what your friends want. It’s certainly not about what a judge or a lawyer wants – and most definitely not about what Congress wants, or what a bunch of bloggers want, who don’t know the patient and didn’t give a rip about the patient’s life until the patient became the national cause of the moment.

Decisions like these are intimate. That is why having a legal document expressing your wishes at the end of your life is so vitally important. As I said, I can equally appreciate both sides of the Terri Schaivo case. The lesson that it should teach each and every single person who is paying attention to it is this – communicate your desires before it’s too late. It’s a document called a a living will. It is what will speak for you when you are unable to speak for yourself.

Another very smart thing to do is to draft up a very simple document called a Power of Attorney – – it is a document whereby you have designated a single person – – and a secondary designee – – to speak for you and your medical needs when you are so debilitated that you cannot speak for yourself, and/or cannot make decisions for yourself.

These two documents, which can be drafted up within a matter of hours, can and will give you peace of mind to know that if you are ever in a situation like Terri Schaivo – there will be no intervening courts, lawyers, family members, bloggers or acts of Congress that can stand between you and how you wish to leave this world.

I have both documents drafted. It clearly states my wishes. If I am in a persistent vegetative state, with no hope of recovery – pull the plug. No artificial anything. That includes ventilators, feeding tubes or any other artificial means of keeping the blood pumping through my veins. Just let me go, is basically what those two documents state. I’ve also appointed someone that I know I can trust to be able to fulfill my wishes in the event that I am not able to communicate them, myself.

My parents have similar wishes communicated in their documents — and have me listed as the secondary designee to be the person to make that decision for them, because they know that I strongly value their wishes and would follow through with what they want done. It is because I value their life that I would be able to carry out their wishes without apprehension.

The documents can spell out your wishes in just the opposite way, as well. Say that you want every single medical procedure and treatment available to keep you alive until your 102 years old. You can designate that, as well – – then at least no one can come forward to say that you would want it any other way.

That’s it. I make no value judgments on the Terri Shaivo case at all. I did not know Terri. I do not know her husband or her family. I sympathize with both sides of this case and feel for all members of the family and Terri, herself. This has to have been a hard road for every single person involved. Decisions like these are not easy ones. Having been there during extensive family conferences with multiple family members trying to come to a decision, together, on what to do . . . usually, in the experiences that I’ve had, families are able to reach a decision together that they all can agree on.

It’s when families cannot come to a mutual decision that cases like these make it into the court systems.

Do yourself, and your family, a favor by drafting the documents that are needed to make sure that the end of your life doesn’t become a cause for the masses. You’re never too young to draft one up for a little peace of mind.

Update: I’m with Matt on this one – – I would love to see Blogs for Terri use their fifteen minutes of fame to help educate the public, who is paying attention, on the topics of end of life legalities and how to safeguard the wishes of the patient…. As none of this would have been necessary and the case wouldn’t have seen the light of day if only Terri had drawn up those documents for herself.

That Terri’s voice has never, and will never, be heard on this – – no one will really ever know what she wanted. That, I feel, is the true tragedy. Don’t let it happen to you or someone that you love.

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19 thoughts on “Living Will – Get One”

  1. Pingback: Matt Margolis - Blog

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  3. Trouble is that a living will and power of attorney are legal documents, the husband has full backing of the legal system, and he has power of attorney, do you think it would make one ounce of difference to the parents if the husband had another legal document, the living will, in his arsenal?

    I do not disagree that it is a good idea to have these documents prepared, but I don’t think they would have made a huge difference in this case.

  4. I think having a living will, in this case, would have made a world of difference in Terri’s case.

    If she would have filled it out and her husband had a document that Terri signed that stated “I do not want to be kept alive by feeding tubes or any other artificial means” – I think that would have avoided the entire court mess completely.

  5. Fred, the parents may well have attempted to fight it – – however, in a court of law, with that piece of paper signed by Terri stating her wishes . . they wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on and no judge would overrule the wishes of a patient as stated in his/her living will.

  6. No judge has ever sided with the parents, but it has not stoped them from appealing, re-appealing, claiming abuse, challenging this challenging that, having the Governer pass emergancy laws that are unconstitutional and now rushing through hasty legislation. By the time that mess is sorted out there will be more obsticals in the way.

    Will the Federal judge over rule the State court when the Supreme court refused to? it doesn’t matter because they will then be able to appeal.

    Grrrrr!

  7. I have to agree with RedFred here. There’s a lot of medical people in my and my wife’s family. My uncle has been involved in some of the organ donor situations and has said that it doesn’t matter how clearly you have things stated, if anybody in the family objects they can’t do it. I should have the living will (and general will) stuff done, but I think there will be a line in there that anybody who stands in the way of my wishes is cut out of the will (yes, that way I can be a vindictive bastard from the grave as well). I also think that after this many times to court that it’s time the courts penalize the Schiavo family. At the very least they should be required to pay for the husband’s court costs.

  8. Man can you imagine the outrage then? This morning I heard an interview wih Terri’s sister, She stated that Michael abused Terri, bullied her to be bullemic (which she also denied catagorically that Terri had not 5 minutes before), Injected her with drugs to induce the heartattack and doesn’t want Terri to survive because after regaining her speech she will implicate him in an attempted murder charge…. Their three closest supporters are a doctor of hellenic medicine, A franciscan monk replete with habit and a shister lawyer.

  9. Just got this in e-mail and thought it might help a few people out there… :mrgreen:

    I, _________________________ (fill in the blank), being of sound mind and body, do not wish to be kept alive indefinitely by artificial means. Under no circumstances should my fate be put in the hands of peckerwood politicians who couldn’t pass ninth-grade biology if their lives depended on it.

    If a reasonable amount of time passes and I fail to sit up and ask for a cold beer, it should be presumed that I won’t ever get better. When such a determination is reached, I hereby instruct my spouse, children and attending physicians to pull the plug, reel in the tubes and call it a day.

    Under no circumstances shall the members of the Legislature enact a special law to keep me on life-support machinery. It is my wish that these boneheads mind their own damn business, and pay attention instead to the health, education and future of the millions of Americans who aren’t in a permanent coma.

    Under no circumstances shall any politicians butt into this case. I don’t care how many fundamentalist votes they’re trying to scrounge for their run for the presidency in 2008. It is my wish that they play politics with someone else’s life and leave me alone to die in peace.

    I couldn’t care less if a hundred religious zealots send e-mails to legislators in which they pretend to care about me. I don’t know these people, and I certainly haven’t authorized them to preach and crusade on my behalf. They should mind their own damn business. If any of my family goes against my wishes and turns my case into a political cause, I hereby promise to come back from the grave and make his or her existence a living hell.

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