Living Wills and Health Care Proxies

Abstract Appeal — The Terri Schiavo Information Page is one of the few unbiased resources on the Internet that describes this tragic case.  There are many sad components to this case, but from my perspective, the lesson here is that everyone should fill out a Health Care Proxy and a Living Will.  It seems that she had made her feelings clear to her husband, but she had never done so in writing.  

An example:  you can find the New York Health Care Proxy (pdf) on New York's health department website.  This document on the NYSDOH website actually performs both functions - as it defines who is the proxy – and then it provides a space to guide the proxy:

"Putting things in writing is safer than simply speaking to people, but neither method is as effective as appointing someone to decide for you. It is often hard for people to know in advance what will happen to them or what their medical needs will be in the future. If you choose someone to make decisions for you, that person can talk to your doctor and make decisions that they believe you would have wanted or that are best for you, when needed. If you appoint someone and also leave instructions about treatment in a Living Will, in the space provided on the Health Care Proxy form itself, or in some other manner, the person you select can use these instructions as guidance to make the right decision for you."

"In some other manner" suggests to this non-lawyer (but I know one pretty well!) that any written communication would be helpful.  An e-mail, a letter .. anything.  For the record .. if I end up like Terry for some horrible reason … let me go. 

Another version of a Living Will and a Health Care Proxy for New York.

3 thoughts on “Living Wills and Health Care Proxies

  1. I hope you’ve appointed a health care proxy. It’s easy. It is important. And it will eliminate fights with your mother.

  2. Reading your post and Dr. Rangel’s post on the Schiavo case changed my mind. Initially, I was appalled by the idea that Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube would be removed. I had seen the videotapes, and Ms. Schiavo did not fit my preconcieved notion of someone who was “brain dead” — I had always envisioned such people as being on a respirator and never opening their eyes. I still have trouble reconciling Ms. Schiavo’s behavior — opening her eyes, smiling — with the contention by some people that she is “not capable of conscious thought.” To me she reminded me of my son when he was about two or three months old; she seemed profoundly retarded but not a “vegetable,” and initially I would have no more supported the idea of withdrawing her life support than I would have not feeding my infant. It was terrible that Terri, unlike my infant, was never going to progress beyond the stage of an infant, but to me if her parents wanted to take care of her in that state, well, why not let them? Now I look at the same videos and I don’t know what to think.

    I concur that having your preferences in writing is important, because I think many people’s assertions that they “don’t want to live” under certain circumstances are facile and poorly thought out. I have heard members of my own family say that they wouldn’t want to live in, oh, say, a wheelchair, or that they’d rather refuse chemotherapy, and this last comment in connection with a person who could very likely achieve a long enough remission to die of something completely unrelated to their cancer if treated with today’s available therapies. Conventional attitudes towards illness and disability aren’t what you’d call enlightened, and having to go to the small trouble of having to write them out may cause people to think critically rather than just “shoot from the lip” and then have to suffer the consequences of their poorly-thought out comments overheard by a relative.

    On the good news front, healthcare proxies are becoming much more common in my state. For instance, at my 28 week OB appointment last month, I was handed a packet of paperwork to fill out for preadmission to the hospital, and along with it my OB gave me a healthcare proxy and asked me to fill it out. Doing this is routine in her practice; every woman gets one.

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