The Healthcare Directive is quite possibly the most important aspect of any Estate Plan. A Healthcare Directive is a document that sets out how you wish to be cared for in certain medical situations and how you wish to be cared for after you pass. Though it is incredibly difficult to think about yourself in a terminal situation, or worse yet to be planning certain aspects of your funeral, it is often a great relief and comfort to your family members and loved ones to know that you yourself would have wanted things to be carried out in that way, and that is just what a Healthcare Directive can do.
The oldest form of a Healthcare Directive is known as the Living Will. Like a Will, which directs a decedent’s representative as to how the decedent (the individual who has died) would like their assets and property disposed of, the Living Will directs the individual’s representative as to how to care for the individual given certain occurrences. Living Wills were brought to the national stage and began to be used more widely following the Karen Ann Quinlan saga in the mid 1970s.
In 1972, Karen Ann Quinlan, barely 21 years old, unexpectedly stopped breathing after being at a friend’s party. After being rushed to the hospital and resuscitated, it was determined that Karen had suffered irreversible brain damage and would remain comatose in a persistent vegetative state. After several months of watching their daughter live on through the aid of a feeding tube and a ventilator, her parents sought to have themselves declared her legal guardians so that they could remove her from ventilator support. Finally, in 1976, after nearly a four-year legal struggle, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Quinlans, allowing them to make the ultimate decision regarding their daughter’s continued reliance upon the ventilator.
Following the Karen Ann Quinlan case, many people began to prepare Living Wills, but Living Wills often only applied to certain situations such as when an individual was considered to be terminal and was left in a comatose state.
Then, in the 1990s, the Nancy Cruzan case came about. Nancy Cruzan was found involved in a car accident, and when emergency personnel reached her, she was not breathing and had no pulse. By the time she arrived at the hospital, emergency personnel had managed to bring Nancy back, however, she would remain in a persistent vegetative state.
Nancy’s parents then sought to have Nancy’s feeding tube and ventilator turned off. Hospital employees refused and a legal battle ensued. This case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. There, the Court held that each of the States may determine exactly what is required in order to show that an individual would have wanted certain measures to be taken and others not to be taken in regards to their medical treatment. The implications of this holding are far reaching. After Cruzan, it is no longer good enough to make sure that you let your family members or health care agents know what you want, because this may not be enough to ensure that you are treated the way you wish to be treated in certain states. A very similar issue was recently raised again during the Terri Schiavo case, which was much publicized only a few years ago.
The idea of the Healthcare Directive is to try to anticipate certain medical situations which could arise in your lifetime and then to communicate your desired treatment plan to your family and doctors. These end-of-life decisions, as they are often called, are incredibly important. Whether you have been placed in the situation before yourself, know someone who was, or read about it in the news, being placed in a situation where you must determine whether your mother, father, husband, or wife will live on in a coma or be allowed to expire by removing life support is an incredibly difficult and emotionally taxing position. You can make sure that your loved ones do not have to deal with the anxiety and guilt of not knowing whether you would have made the same decisions had you been able to.
Moreover, if you hold certain beliefs about how you would like to approach the end of your life, or how you would like your remains handled after your passing, a Healthcare Directive can help by making sure that your wishes are adequately communicated to your caregivers and family. Whether your request is as simple as that you be buried or cremated, or as lavish as that you be dressed in your fishing gear and buried while your favorite song is played, a Healthcare Directive can ensure that when the inevitable arrives, you go out exactly as you would have wanted to.
The Healthcare Directive works by nominating a healthcare agent. A healthcare agent acts in your stead, should you ever become unable to make your own decisions. For example, if you were to suffer a catastrophic injury that caused you to remain comatose, your healthcare agent would be able to make important medical decisions for you regarding your treatment. The healthcare agent would then look to your Healthcare Directive to give them instructions as to how you would like to be treated.
We at the Gabriel Law Office, PLLC can help you to prepare a Healthcare Directive. You can have the peace of mind in knowing that you will receive that care, and only that care, which you yourself desire. You can be assured that your doctors, family and loved ones have been provided with your end-of-life decisions and requests. Let us help make sure that legal issues are not an issue for you or your family.