Living Wills, Patient Advocate Designation

August 22, 2010

Living Will? Medical Power of Attorney? Patient Advocate Designation? Advanced Medical Directive? Is there a difference and is it important that I have one?

Although it is called by different names in different states, a Living Will, Medical Power of Attorney, Patient Advocate Designation, or Advanced Medical Directive, all have one thing in common: the ability to appoint someone to make your wishes known as to what kind of medical treatment you will receive if you are unable to make these decisions for yourself.  A  Living Will, Medical Power of Attorney, Patient Advocate Designation, or Advanced Medical Directive is a legal document consisting of two primary elements: 1. The appointment of a person whom you trust to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated; and 2. Directives to this person as to what kind of medical treatment or life sustaining procedures be used (or not) if your recovery is highly improbable and death is a medical certainty.

Everyone remembers the story of Terri Schiavo. She was the young woman in Florida who suffered massive brain damage and had no objective signs of brain function. Her husband believed it would have been her wish to have her feeding tube and all life-sustaining devices removed to allow her to “die with dignity.”  Terri’s parents, on the other hand, contended that as a devout Roman Catholic, she would never have consented to the withholding of treatment that would result in the taking of life itself. The issue of whether to withdraw life-sustaining procedures was addressed by the courts, the Florida legislature, and Congress.  Even the President of the United States weighed in on the issue. A very private, personal, and ethical matter turned into a public and media spectacle. Finally, after a legal battle that lasted for seven years, on March 18, 2005, life support was disconnected and she was allowed to die. Terri Schiavo did not have a Living Will.

At Berkley Mengel PLC we highly recommend to our clients that a Patient Advocate Designation (the appropriate name for this document under Michigan law) be included as part of their estate plan. We also recommend that each client consider a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) provision as to what (if any) life sustaining measures be utilized if there remains no reasonable likelihood of recovery.  Yes, it is important to have a Patient Advocate Designation (i.e. Living Will, Medical Power of Attorney).  Why?  Your loved ones need to know who will make medical decisions for you and what your wishes are if the unspeakable happens and you are incapacitated to the point where you are not able to make medical decisions for yourself.

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