Balancing Life and Death
Every few years national headlines are captured by news of a family caught in the throes of making difficult medical decisions.
In the past we heard about Karen Quinlan and Terry Schaivo. In both 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. Today we are hearing about Jahi McMath. She was declared brain dead after a routine surgery. According to several medical experts, Jahi is actually dead (beyond a persistent vegetative state) and only her flesh is being kept alive by artificial means. Meanwhile, her family is praying for a miracle – that they will once again have their precious daughter as they knew her.
One of the most distressing situations a family has to 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 length of days at any cost. 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.
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 and autopsy are permissible. A common sentiment expressed in the Advance Health Care Directive is, “If I should have an incurable injury, disease, or illness certified by two (2) physicians to be a terminal condition, and if the application of life-sustaining procedures would serve only to artificially prolong the moment of my death, and if my treating physician determines that my death is imminent, whether or not life-sustaining procedures are utilized, then I desire that all life-sustaining treatment be withheld or removed.”
When an estate plan is prepared, a discussion and statement of preferences regarding end-of-life issues must be an integral part. 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. © 2014 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved.