When I do Wills for clients, I always discuss the option of doing Living Wills and Health Care Proxies. I consider these so important, and so fundamental to proper practice, that I offer them at no additional charge. Here are the basics:
LIVING WILL – This is a person’s written declaration that if they are in a hopeless situation, they do not want to be kept alive artificially. Sometimes I say to clients “This is like that Florida situation from a few years ago, where the woman was in a coma and the husband was feuding with her parents.” For some reason, everyone seems to remember that case. The basic forms for a living will provide for pain relief, but invasive life sustaining procedures not be undertaken. Having this all stated in writing makes it much easier for doctors, hospitals and families to know what to do…or not do.
When I state the option, most people opt for it, but not all. I have not editorial opinion on it. When people express a strong opinion that they want a Living Will, the sentiment is usually “If I’m hopeless pull the plug, I don’t want to suffer and I don’t want my family to suffer.” When there is a strong opinion not to do it, it’s usually along the lines of “These things should be in G-d’s hands”. I never argue. My informal data suggests that when this option is suggested, people say to do a Living Will about 90% of the time.
HEALTH CARE PROXY – This is different than a Living Will, but crucially important. A health care proxy designates someone to make health care decisions if you are not able to make the decision. This would be a “not hopeless” situation. My usual quote is “A health care proxy comes into play if you are in a coma, but not hopeless, and the risky ‘xyz’ procedure MIGHT help, but who will decide whether to do it?” The health care proxy gives someone, usually a trusted family member, the responsibility to decide.
I always include the designated person’s cell phone and home #. Hey, if we need to reach the person quickly we better be able to. Sometimes people want to have two people have the responsibility together. I am not a fan of this, but will do it if clients insist. I often name one person and a successor or back-up.
Obviously, being designated a Health Care Proxy is a big responsibility, so the decision on who to designate is important. I had some first hand experience with this, and I often relate this to my clients, to illustrate its importance. Bottom line: my Dad had named me his health care proxy and unfortunately ended up a a very serious medical crisis where decisions had to be made. My step-mom and I were not in agreement on what should be done and when, but I had the health care proxy which enabled me to be clear to the doctors and the hospital that I was the one designated to make decisions. I took the time to investigate ALL the options, and discussed them with her and other family members. I had made a painful decision that I was comfortable with, but thankfully I did not have to actually implement it because my Dad regained consciousness, lived another two weeks, then passed peacefully (This was in 2010). The reason I tell this story is to impart that not only did I feel I had honored my Dad’s wishes, but that in the short time he regained consciousness, I told him what had transpired. In fact, his last words to me were “I’m proud of you”.
Health care proxies are VERY important!