The living will

Because of things that have happened in my own family, I had a living will before I had a standard one. But I’m an exception. I imagine, however, that the events of this past month have changed all that.

When you’re in relatively good health and only 26 years old (as Terri Schiavo was when she first lost consciousness in 1990), the idea of planning ahead for the remote possibility of being in a coma or a persistent vegetative state is not exactly a priority.

Mrs. Schiavo’s case is a sobering reminder that life can turn on a dime, transforming the least expected into a daily reality. Beyond the initial tragedy 15 years ago, the other tragedy of this case is that no one really knows what Terri would want.

So one way to honor her struggle is to take a moment and think about what you would want in this situation, then prepare the appropriate paperwork to leave specific and clear instructions. Fortunately, these days it’s fairly easy to prepare a living will so your family will be aware of your wishes in the event you can’t communicate.

If you have a lawyer or someone who helps you with legal matters, they can advise you on how to proceed and may even suggest appointing a close friend or family member to be your health care power of attorney. It’s also a good idea to stipulate someone as a backup decision-maker in case the person who’s your first choice becomes incapacitated.

You can go online where you’ll find several web sites that offer instructions and necessary forms. Different states have their own individual laws concerning “advance directive,” so the web site for the attorney general’s office in your home state may offer useful information. Many doctors and hospitals also keep the necessary forms on hand. And in most cases, a notary public is not required, just the signature of a witness.

Please take a few moments today to get your advance directive or living will in order. It’s really the only way to ensure your family can carry out your wishes if tragedy should strike.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute