Thursday, October 23, 2003

End of Life Instructions

I would like to point you to my friend Adam's recent spittle-flecked rant on his own desires for end-of-life care, spurred by the emotional and clumsy fight over Teri Schiavo's persistent vegetative state. I point it out because it is well-meant, well-said, and completely worthless.

If you feel strongly about how your end-of-life care should be handled, you need to complete the proper legal forms. Without them, doctors can -- and will -- justifiably refuse to let you die. All the blogging in the world won't help you against the Hippocratic Oath and the fear of a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Thus, you should be aware of two documents if you want care to be withheld from you:

1. The Written Advance Directive. This is a set of instructions to your doctor, and in Texas, the form for it is very conveniently set out at Tex. Health & Safety Code sec. 166.033. Literally, the concepts are spelled out in great detail, and you check the boxes as desired. Execute the document as directed, and you're set.

2. The Written Medical Power of Attorney. This gives permission to a particular person to make decisions about your health care when you are incapacitated. The form is at section 166.163 and 166.164. This is, of course, a bigger deal, because now you've given another human being certain power over your health care decisions.

(There is also a document called an Out-Of-Hospital Do-Not-Rescuscitate Order, which is explained at section 166.081 et seq. and which has a narrower purpose than the other two documents.)

These are big decisions, and require a lot of thought, but the forms themselves are fairly self-explanatory. (Be very sure to follow all the requirements for executing the documents. Those rules are there for a reason.) If you have any questions about these documents, how they work, and how to properly execute them, discuss them with the attorney that prepared your will. Don't merely go by this pathetically inadequate guide.

You have a will, right?

Actually, I mean, you have a will. Period. The Legislature of your state has already decreed how your property will be divided, how your children will be cared for, and how those people will be compensated for their service. If you don't like the way your Probate Code is written, then get off your duff and write a will. If you make the hard decisions before the attorney's clock starts ticking, and if you don't have a lot of assets, it doesn't cost a whole lot. And somehow, I think that you can do a better job of deciding what to do with your kids than the state Legislature.

 9:29 AM

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