If you want to avoid unwanted medical treatment at the end-of-life, make sure you:
- execute a Health Care Directive (HCD), the one legal document that can help you get what you want and avoid what you don’t want;
- talk to your family and friends about your wishes and concerns at the end-of-life; and
- pick a capable Health Care Agent who can handle and understand the tough decisions (your decisions) and who is prepared to oversee and insist on those wishes.
Talking about your own death or the death of your loved ones is never easy, and for many people, it’s often so uncomfortable or downright scary that, no matter how high the stakes are, they just can’t find a way to have the conversation(s). It sometimes seems like we can avoid the whole issue of dying if we just avoid bringing the subject up. But, as most of us have realized (at least intellectually!), despite the fact that death comes to us all, it’s emotionally safe and considerably less scary to avoid the subject altogether. I have written on this subject many times, and it always leads me to the same advice — don’t stick your head in the sand, and resolve to do as stated above: execute, talk, and pick well!
This next avenue.org article (link below) may spell it out in a more convincing way for some readers:
Make it easier, not harder – communicate! So many people think it’s “easier” on their loved ones if they don’t make them listen to their end-of-life wishes and concerns. Which sounds easier to you?
a) you being taken to the hospital and put on life support, and THEN asking your family to decide what you may have wanted, or
b) what may be a difficult conversation now, allowing your grieving loved ones to understand what kind of medical treatment you want, and why it was important to you, in advance of the end-of-life event when they at least have a chance to calmly work through their emotions, questions, and concerns.
If there has been no conversation, often your loved ones are at a loss – reluctant to “let you go.” There can be feelings of guilt, of grief, and panic at the thought of you dying – especially if they perceive you hadn’t thought about it either. They’ve not had an opportunity to think about what YOU wanted. In the absence of understanding your wishes, they have no choice but to settle on what THEY want for you. This may be comforting until you start thinking about how they may misunderstand your wishes.
Get good medical information. There is no substitute for having a doctor(s) who is not only knowledgeable, but also trustworthy. YOU need to be able to talk to them about what your wishes and concerns are. And, you need to feel comfortable asking questions. If you can’t do that with the professionals you have right now, consider finding others who will put you and your loved ones at ease, and will work to understand, honor, and pursue your wishes to the best of their abilities. Additionally, make sure you are getting quality information about your illness and/or condition, and that your choices are clear and explained well to you.
Know your legal rights. Your family members will be asked to make decisions for you – with or without a Health Care Directive. A physician or health care professional will look to family members to help them to decide what to do for you if you can’t make decisions for yourself. The more important issue is that YOU decide which family member should be in that position – understand that the more people involved in a decision, the more disagreeable it can become.
I urge readers to consider having an attorney (preferably an elder law attorney who has experience dealing with end-of-life issues) assist them in drafting and executing a HCD. Below are a few of your most important legal rights:
The right to accept or refuse medical treatment (you, or your appointed agent when you are unable to speak for yourself)
The right to have your HCD instructions followed (make sure the right people have access to your HCD – if they don’t have it, they don’t know what it says. If they don’t know what it says, they can’t follow it!)
Access to your Medical Records (In Minnesota, your appointed HCD agent has the same right to access your medical records as you do – so make sure they know that they can insist on having that access, even if the doctor or institution claims HIPPA protection.)
HCD Agent Advocacy (Make sure your appointed HCD agent has a copy of your HCD – so should medical facilities, and doctors, and make sure that you’ve appointed an agent who is both willing and available to advocate for you at a moment’s notice – this is very important, as hospitals and health care professionals are busy and will follow their own policies and habits in the absence of other directives.)
The right to have anyone you choose as your HCD agent. Are you concerned because you have no family you can count on? You have the right to choose anyone you would like to make health care decisions for you. You must legally execute that choice, however, by appointing someone in writing – usually by means of a HCD. The same conversations you would have had with your family should happen with your trusted friend/advocate. Remember that unless you have a validly executed HCD that does appoint that non-relative, they have no right to speak on your behalf. Unless you make that choice, the medical profession is not obligated to recognize someone other than a family member. If there is none appointed, they will use other means to make those decisions.
This blog is written by Bridget-Michaele Reischl, Attorney DECORO LAW OFFICE, PLLC www.decorolaw.com
ALL READERS: This blog is not, nor shall it be deemed to be, legal advice or counsel. This blog does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. It is designed to encourage thoughtful consideration of important legal issues with the expectation that readers will seek professional advice from a licensed attorney.Contact Bridget-Michaele Reischl at: DECORO LAW OFFICE, PLLC 6 West 5th Street, Suite 800-D Saint Paul, MN 55102 (651)-321-305 firstname.lastname@example.org