Every few years national headlines are captured by news of a family caught in the throes of making difficult medical decisions. You might remember the names Karen Quinlan, Terry Schaivo or Jahi McMath. In these cases, the young women were kept alive for years by artificial means although they were in what is called “a persistent vegetative state”. Wikipedia defines persistent vegetative state as “a disorder of consciousness in which patients with severe brain damage are in a state of partial arousal rather than true awareness”. There is absolutely no quality of life.
One of the most distressing situations a family can face is that of making medical decisions concerning whether to withhold or withdraw life support for a loved one. Most people I know are more concerned with quality of life and dying with dignity rather than continuing life in a vegetative state. There are legitimate concerns about living with debilitating pain, depleting resources, prolonging the anguish of loved ones, and an imbalance between the burdens of a proposed treatment versus the expected benefits.
I recently read an article in the LA Times regarding the difficult decisions involving COVID-19 patients who are hanging in the balance between life and death. If a patient becomes extremely ill and is very unlikely to survive their illness, important decisions must be made. How long should someone continue to hang on to life on a respirator?
When an estate plan is prepared, a statement of preferences regarding end-of-life issues must be an integral part. A core estate planning document is the Advance Health Care Directive which is used to set forth preferences concerning medical conditions such as a persistent vegetative state, irreversible coma, Alzheimer’s, and whether organ donation, cremation and autopsy are permissible. Just like the disposition of your worldly goods, decisions involving your health care should be carefully considered and clearly stated during the estate planning process. Having a well-prepared Advance Health Care Directive will let your family know what your wishes are concerning difficult medical decisions.
© 2021 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved.
(You may obtain further information at the website www.marlenecooperlaw.com, by e-mail at MarleneCooperLaw@gmail.com, by phone at (626) 791-7530 or toll free at (866) 702-7600. The information in this article is of a general nature and not intended as legal advice. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this article).