A recent NBC study reveals that hospital policies and practices for when to withdraw life support vary widely, even within the same community.
Decisions Around Life Support
The study shows such decisions often depend on the culture in the hospital, as opposed to patient and family wishes. The NBC News article suggests that you should discuss these issues with your family before you end up in such a situation.
However, this may not always be an adequate solution to the problem either. The tragic case of Terry Schaivofrom a decade ago demonstrates that leaving such decisions to you family may just lead to larger problems.
Effective Solution — Directive to Phycians
Briefly mentioned in the NBC News article is a more direct and effective solution to such concerns. Washington has a statute permitting individuals to prepare a document called a Directive to Physicians.
A Directive to Physicians is a legally enforceable document signed by you that states you do not want your death to be artificially prolonged. Unlike a medical power of attorney, you are not appointing someone to make these end-of-life decisions for you. You are expressing your intent and wishes in the Directive and asking your family, doctors, lawyers, and clergy to honor those wishes.
In Washington, you can also direct that your physicians administer drugs or narcotics to ease your pain and suffering to improve your quality of life, even if doing so may shorten your life.
Peace of Mind
According to the article, only about 10 percent of the general public has prepared a Health Care Directive. This statistic is surprising considering it is simple and inexpensive to have a lawyer prepare a Health Care Directive.
The peace of mind a Health Care Directive can provide for you and your family is invaluable, especially in light of the varying culture, practices, and policies discovered in hospitals across the country.
Douglas N. Kiger, Attorney at Law
Blado Kiger Bolan, Tacoma, Wash.