Advance care directives for end of life are sometimes referred to as living wills. It's a
strange name, because they're really used for dying. An example of
how they're used is Jim's case. He's driving home from a meeting.
His wife, Donna, and their children are waiting for him to get home for
dinner, but an eighteen wheeler hit his car on I-10.
Donna rushed to the hospital and saw her brain damaged husband on a respirator.
She's told there's no hope for recovery but that Jim's body
can be kept alive for awhile on the respirator. What should she do? Emotions
overcome her. Fortunately, she didn't have to make the decision about
whether to remove him from the respirator or allow his body to be tortured
by extended artificial care, because Jim had written a plan. It told the
doctors what to do.
In case of catastrophic injury or terminal illness, he wanted to die in
peace, naturally, without having the awful burden of making the hard decisions
put on his family's shoulders. That's why he had contacted a non-profit
organization some years before to write his advance directives. Jim was
released from the machines to die naturally a few hours later.
This is only one example of how advance planning can be beneficial to a
family. Most of the time, it is used when people are terminally ill from
diseases like cancer. Some facts about advance directives or living wills
should reassure us. Anyone over 18 has the right to decline medical treatments
that cause unwarranted suffering and serve only to prolong the dying process.
A living will provides the opportunity for people who care about each other
to have a dialogue about end of life medical choices. It is a legal document
that allows one to make health care choices for the future when confusion
or unconsciousness makes it impossible to communicate preferences. I'll
tell you more about this choice in the next blog.