Life is full of instances where taking a decision seems to be extremely challenging. The task is even more difficult if the decision concerns the medical treatment for a loved one that is incapable of deciding for him or her self. Deciding health care matters for patients that cannot do so is emotionally wrenching for families and represents an ethical dilemma for physicians. This difficult scenario is better illustrated with the Terri Schiavo case.
Terry Schiavo Sad Case.
Ms. Schiavo was sustained by artificial hydration and nutrition through a feeding tube for 15 years after suffering a cardiac arrest, triggered by extreme hypokalemia caused by an eating disorder. Ms. Schiavo’s husband, Michael Schiavo, faced a public legal struggle with his wife’s parents and siblings about whether Ms. Schiavo’s life-sustaining medical treatment should be continued or stopped. Mr. Schiavo and the two neurologists that he selected to testify in court stood for the position that Ms. Schiavo’s condition met the criteria for a persistent vegetative state and believed that her treatment should be stopped. Ms. Schiavo’s parents, siblings and the neurologists testifying in court for Ms. Schiavo’s estate stood for the position that Ms. Schiavo’s condition could improve in the future and believed that treatment should be continued.
After years of legal battle, Mr. Schiavo was able to terminate his wife’s life-support treatment. By then, however, his family had been tainted by bitter moments trying to guess Ms. Schiavo’s desires regarding life-sustaining medical treatment. This could have been avoided if Ms. Schiavo had left her written wishes about receiving life-support treatment in a living will. With a proper living will, Ms. Schiavo could have decided under which circumstances she desired life-support machinery, and under which ones she did not.
5 Steps to Create an Efficient Living Will
- Appoint a health care agent: You appoint someone as your health care agent with a durable power of attorney known as Designation of Health Care Surrogate. Your agent will have the legal authority to make health care decisions for you if you are no longer able to speak for yourself.
- Attach a signed HIPAA release form: You must provide your health care provider with a HIPAA release form so that he can discuss your medical information with your agent. It is wise to provide a release form to all of your physicians and insurance carrier.
- Draft instructions for health care: Write instructions for your future health care outlining your wishes about life-sustaining medical treatment in the event that you can no longer speak for yourself. Your agent will be directed to implement your written instructions. This will be your living will.
- Revise: Your written instructions must be absolutely clear to be enforceable. Moreover, your written instructions must clearly answer the question about life-sustaining care.
- Notify your attending physician: Once you draft your living will, it is your responsibility to notify your physician that you have a one. Also, it is important that you discuss your health care desires with your physician. He or she is likely to be the one carrying for you if your instructions become relevant and is more likely to honor requests that have been communicated to him or her directly.
Often a living will is part of a more complex document which also contains a designation of health care surrogate and a HIPAA release.
You must sign your living will in the presence of two subscribing witnesses. The witnesses cannot be your spouse or your blood relative. If you cannot sign your living will, then one of the witnesses must subscribe your signature in your presence and at your direction. While you are not required to seek legal advice to prepare a living will, it is a good idea to do so to ensure that the actual instructions for your wishes are stated accurately. For assistance in drafting a living will in Florida, call the Law Office of David M. Goldman PLLC at (904) 685 – 1200.