Health Care Directives

HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVES 2/13/10

Kim: When Congress was considering the new health care legislation, there was much concern about Death Panels mandating that certain patients be allowed to die.

Kim: Many people who go into a hospital are asked if they have a living will. What is a living will and what does it do?

Mike: Each state is different. Under Ohio law there are two important documents that people should consider a health care power of attorney and a living will.

First let's talk about the living will. If you sign that document, you are stating to the world that in certain situations that you don't want life sustaining treatment or food or water given to you if you are in either a permanently unconscious state or you are in a terminal condition.

  • Terminal condition - A terminal condition means an incurable condition in which death is imminent
  • Permanently unconscious state - means that you have a total loss of higher brain function and are unable to feel pain or suffering.

Kim: Who decides whether you are in a terminal condition or a permanently unconscious state?

Mike: Two doctors have to make that decision. Some people are afraid that doctors will be to ready to make a decision to "pull the plug" in order to harvest your organs. There was as story back late last year where someone was in a coma 23 years and doctors had concluded his consciousness was extinct. Eventually it was discovered that he was conscious the whole time. However those stories are few and far between.

Kim: You mentioned a health care power of attorney. What is that?

Mike: A health care power of attorney is a document giving someone the right to make health care decisions for a person if they are unable to make their own decisions. That could include authorization to remove life support, but it also can include making other medical decisions based upon medical advice.

A person holding a health care power of attorney does not have to exercise the power to authorize the removal of life support.

However, it is important for people to realize that a living will trumps a health care power of attorney. If you fill out a living will, life support could still be removed even if the holder of your health care power of attorney doesn't agree to authorize the action.

Kim: Do I need a lawyer to prepare these documents?

Mike: Usually a lawyer will prepare these documents as part of your estate plan. However you can download a living will and health care power forms at www.ohpco.org and fill out the forms yourself.