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Creating a Living Will and Power of Attorney - Your Final Say

  • Published: 2010-07-16 (Revised/Updated 2014-03-04) : Author: Jari Holland Buck
  • Synopsis: Examines the benefits of having a living will and granting power of attorney.

A Durable Medical Power of Attorney states that a designated person has the legal right to make healthcare decisions for me, should I become incapacitated.

In my business practice, I often find myself coaching individuals who insist on having "the final say."

They are committed to the appearance and/or actuality of being in charge and often run their own company. Few, if any, apply this commitment to their personal life as it relates to end-of-life planning, even though this would preserve their right to have "the [FINAL] final say!"

Each year, we honor April 16th as National Healthcare Decisions Day. Healthcare decision documents are known by many names including:

I always send an email to my colleagues and friends on this day asking the following questions:

These are not pleasant or easy issues to confront and there are no "right" answers, just "your" answers.

No one wants to believe anything bad could happen to them, the very issue that confronted the spouse and parents of Terri Schiavo, who at age 27, suffered a cardiac arrest, that lead to brain damage due to lack of oxygen. Her case went to the Supreme Court because she lacked these documents. Regardless of what course of action you believe should have occurred, the fact remains that this painful experience could have been totally avoided by her family and the county had she executed these two documents. Most importantly, all would have known that what was done was what she wanted.

Why do I feel so passionate about this subject

Although my husband survived catastrophic medical events during a 7+ month hospital stay, I entered his medical nightmare as "just a spouse," not as a person who had Durable Medical Power of Attorney. Talk about a case of the cobbler's children not having shoes! I was married to an attorney, who refused to deal with legal issues such as a Durable Medical Power of Attorney and a Living Will because "it was too upsetting to think about them."

It has been my experience that you run into two types of healthcare providers

The real need for these documents occurs when you deal with the latter as I did in each of the four hospitals in which my husband was treated. Keep in mind that HIPAA privacy laws make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for you to access patient information as an advocate without a Durable Medical Power of Attorney. When someone we care about is hospitalized, we are under enough stress without having to take on this additional burden.

DO THIS NOW! Don't put it off! If you need copies of these documents, here are three sources:

A quote by Roy Walsh, psychiatry professor interviewed in The Search For Meaning by Phillip L. Berman, may explain how we continue to feed our denial. "You can see that basically our lives are, to a large extent, spent in avoiding confrontation with ourselves. And then you can begin to make sense of the enormous amount of our culture's daily activities, which attempt to distract us from ourselves, from deep reflection, from deep thinking, from existential confrontation. There's a wonderful phrase by the philosopher Kierkegaard, 'tranquilization by the trivial.' And I think our culture has mastered this better than any culture in history, simply because we have the wealth and means to do so."

Regardless of our cultural conditioning, I believe avoidance of this subject is also a direct result of fear:

...and on and on. Christian Nestell Bovee states, "We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them." If true, then merely having these conversations and making these decisions should calm some of our fear. Not only are you doing yourself a service, you are sparing your family the agony of one of life's greatest and most difficult decisions.
You are also ensuring that you have "the final say!"

JARI HOLLAND BUCK is a business consultant, medical layperson, Reiki Master and Shamanic Practitioner who spent 7-1/2 months in four hospitals with her critically ill husband. During 6+ months on life support, every organ in his body failed, yet he survived. Learn more about how to be an advocate in her book, Hospital Stay Handbook: A Guide to Becoming A Patient Advocate for Your Loved Ones, winner of the 2006 Parent to Parent Adding Wisdom Award and finalist in the Fresh Voices of 2006 Health category.

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