With the passage of the historic End of Life Option Act, the topic of end-of-life decision making has been once again thrust to the forefront. For those who may be unfamiliar with this law, it was executed in October 2015, and allows licensed physicians – at the direction of their lucid, competent, terminally ill patient – to administer drugs that will essentially end the patient’s life. While met with significant controversy, the law is not the first of its kind – as five other states have already ratified similar measures.
From an estate planning perspective, end-of-life discussions are never easy – but are extremely important. Without a proper advance directive/living will in place, patients are at the mercy of their providers’ duty to initiate life-saving medical interventions in the event of a medical emergency. Oftentimes, this means cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, followed by weeks or months on life-sustaining equipment. While some individuals wish to prolong their life as long as possible, others are not as keen on the idea – which is where the advance planning comes in.
Using an advance directive, a person can select one or several healthcare “agents” that can speak up for them in the event they are no longer able. As a healthcare advocate, the agent must honor the known wishes of the patient, which should likewise be memorialized in the advance directive with regard to the patient’s non-terminal beliefs concerning medical care.
For the terminally ill patient, a living will is an essential document that directs how the patient wishes to be treated upon receiving a terminal diagnosis. Generally, a terminal diagnosis is one in which the patient’s treating physician has determined that the patient is highly likely to succumb to the effects of the injury or accident, or the patient is in a persistent vegetative state (i.e., a coma). Once these “triggering events” take place, the wishes set forth in the living will take over to either direct continued medical intervention or to sustain life-saving measures (known as a “DNR,” or Do Not Resuscitate). Additionally, the living will may direct as to whether the patient wishes to have a feeding tube and/or artificial nutrition, preferences regarding pain management, and even organ donation directives.
If you have any questions about advanced medical directives, you should consult with a qualified