By Howard S. Simmons
Who should make a medical decision if you (or your parents) cannot make it? For example, you are in a coma because of a car accident or suffering from dementia, and a surgeon needs a consent signed because of the risks of the operation. Who assesses the risks and makes the decision for you? If you cannot mentally look after your affairs, who is to decide whether you should stay at home with needed help, or be moved to a nursing home?
If you are suffering from an illness with no hope of recovery, and in great pain, and you are on life support, will you want the life support discontinued (“pulling the plug”) or not? Do you have specific instructions, such as not wanting artificial mechanical respiration but wanting electrical or mechanical resuscitation of your heart?
Perhaps you want whatever medical treatment, and anything possible to maintain your life as long as possible. If you are not specific about wanting whatever treatment is possible to keep you alive, the attending doctors may decide that life support should be discontinued. Whatever are your wishes, they are personal. However, these wishes should be yours, and not someone else’s.
These wishes can be set out in a Power of Attorney for Personal Care. A living Will usually refers to instructions that are more detailed, and wishes on your health care. If you set these out properly, you can choose the individual or individuals who will carry out your wishes when you are unable to tell someone yourself.
Whoever you wish to make these types of decisions for you, such as your spouse, a child or children or others, they should know of your wishes in advance. Other close members of your family or anyone else who may be involved, should also know of your wishes in advance.
You do not want a dispute over what is the type of treatment for you or if you should go to a nursing home or not. This will be an emotional time for your family, where someone will need to make difficult decisions, often not knowing what the correct answer is.
Do you think a child telling a doctor to “pull the plug” on a beloved mother is easy to do? The comfort to the child will know that it is the mother’s wish being carried out. The last thing you would want is a dispute between them over what should be done or a child feeling guilty forever over a decision made in a hospital.