Do You Have an Advance Health Care Directive?

Many of us remember, Terri Schiavo, the 41-year-old who succumbed after her feeding tube was removed as part of a very public legal battle between her husband and parents, in 2005.

Believe it or not, Ms. Schiavo was in a coma for nearly 15 years after she suffered cardiac arrest and sustained a brain injury. Her husband, Michael, alleged that she would not want to live in her incapacitated state, but she had no written instructions in place.

Her parents, on the other hand, suspected that Michael had something to do with Terri’s collapse and argued that she valued life and would have chosen to be sustained. The Florida Legislature, Congress and even President Bush intervened in the legal battle between Michael and her parents.

While no one will ever know Terri’s desire, it is safe to assume she would not have wanted the animosity and legal fees that her condition created between her husband and parents.

The Terri Schiavo story highlights the critical need for each of us to have clear, written instructions regarding our healthcare when unable to make those decisions for ourselves. But, surprisingly only about 1/3 of us have anything in place to guide others in this type of situation.

Luckily for us, most states (of which Utah is one) have enacted legislation to help give us the tools we need to prevent a situation like Ms. Schiavo’s. Here in Utah, we have an “Advance Health Care Directive” which allows us to provide guidance in situations where we are either not competent or able to make the decision for ourselves.

The Utah Commission on Aging has provided a great toolkit that you can download and fill out which will help you to have your directions clearly defined. Provided free through their website, the document, found by clicking here, will ask you personal questions about your desires. Once you answer those, sign the document with a witness present, and you will be ahead of almost 2/3 of the country.

The Commission does warn that “having a written advance directive by itself does not ensure that your wishes will be understood and respected. Studies have shown that standard advance directive forms do little to influence end-of-life decisions without: 1) informed, thoughtful reflection about your wishes and values, and 2) personal communication between you and your likely decision-makers before a crisis occurs.”

To ensure your proper desires are carried out, you should also let your agent know both what your wishes are and where to find the document should the need arise.