Talking with loved ones about your end-of-life wishes is perhaps one of the most uncomfortable conversations a person could have. However, the tragic story of a 13-year-old girl recently being declared brain dead has captured national attention and has caused many Colorado residents to consider how they would like to be cared for if they ever ended up in a similar situation. The California girl was declared brain dead in December 2013 after suffering complications from a tonsillectomy. The family has since been fighting to keep the girl alive using a ventilator. Unfortunately, nobody knows if this is what the girl would have actually wanted.
A California survey revealed that 84 percent of the people asked felt their family knew what their wishes would be if they were to become incapacitated. However, only 29 percent of the people surveyed had ever had an in-depth, serious discussion about their end-of-life wishes. A spokesperson from an organization known as Aging with Dignity stated that cases such as the brain dead young girl provide proof that end-of-life care is not just an issue for elderly people.
The first step towards ensuring that your wishes are carried out involves appointing a surrogate or proxy. This person will have the responsibility of speaking on your behalf and making health decisions for you if you are unable to communicate. This should be a trustworthy person who agrees with your wishes and will be brave enough to stand up to any opposition regarding what you want. A legal document known as a power of attorney will allow this person to be recognized in writing as a legal decision-maker for you if you become incapacitated.
You must also determine what courses of action you would want taken in specific situations. For example, if you can no longer eat or drink, you must decide if you'd like to be artificially fed and hydrated. If you can no longer breathe by yourself, you should decide if you'd like to be intubated. It may also be helpful to consider more than just medical treatment options. For example, you might request to spend your last days at home.
While you cannot predict every possible situation, it's best to make your mandates specific enough so that your wishes are clear. Family and elder law attorneys can help ensure that you have the proper legal documents in place before they are needed.
Source: cnn.com, "Dying: What no one wants to talk about" Jacque Wilson, Jan. 12, 2014