Every few years national headlines are captured by news of a family caught in the throes of making difﬁcult medical decisions. In the past we heard about Karen Quinlan and Terry Schaivo. In both cases the young women were kept alive for years by artiﬁcial means although they were in what is called “a persistent vegetative state”. Wikipedia defines persistent vegetative state as “a disorder of consciousness in which patients with severe brain damage are in a state of partial arousal rather than true awareness”. There is absolutely no quality of life. A couple of years ago we heard about Jahi McMath. She was declared brain dead after a routine surgery. According to several medical experts, Jahi was actually dead (beyond a persistent vegetative state) and only her ﬂesh was being kept alive by artiﬁcial means. The hospital wanted to terminate life support but the family moved her to a hospital in a difference state which allows the continuation of life support under such circumstances. The family recently posted an update to Facebook claiming “She’s alive because she’s maturing, reportedly having grown normally and shown signs of puberty and no organ decay. Tests also showed blood ﬂ ow and electrical activity in the girl’s brain.” She is not sitting up and talking — videos posted online only purport to show the girl responding to verbal requests to move her ﬁngers. It remains to be seen whether she is “alive” in the accepted deﬁnition of that term.
One of the most distressing situations a family has to face is that of making medical decisions concerning whether to withhold or withdraw life support for a loved one. Most people I know are more concerned with quality of life and dying with dignity rather than length of days at any cost. There are legitimate concerns about living with debilitating pain, depleting resources, prolonging the anguish of loved ones, and an imbalance between the burdens of a proposed treatment versus the expected benefits. A core estate planning document is the Advance Health Care Directive which is used to set forth preferences concerning medical conditions such as a persistent vegetative state, irreversible coma, Alzheimer’s, and whether organ donation and autopsy are permissible.
When an estate plan is prepared, a discussion and statement of preferences regarding end-of-life issues must be an integral part. Just like the disposition of your worldly goods, decisions involving your health care should be carefully considered and clearly stated during the estate planning process.
© 2017 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved.
(Marlene S. Cooper, a graduate of UCLA, has been an attorney for over 35 years. Her practice is focused entirely on estate planning, estate administration and probate. You may obtain further information at www. marlenecooperlaw.com, by e-mail at Marlene@ MarleneCooperLaw.com, by phone at (626) 791-7530 or toll free at (866) 702-7600. The information in this article is of a general nature and not intended as legal advice. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this article).