Posted by: Jason T. Johns
Huck Bouma attorneys prepare Powers of Attorney for Property and Healthcare so that when our clients can no longer act for themselves, people they trust will have the authority to act on their behalf. But when it comes to actually using those documents at the time of a healthcare crisis, clear and powerful documents are just the beginning.
Sitting in a lawyer’s office, the client may have been quite certain about healthcare decisions. The client does not want life prolonged by a battery of aggressive treatments, where these would not preserve quality of life. The client does not want blood transfusions, dialysis, repeated courses of antibiotics and chemotherapy, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or breathing and feeding tubes. The client does not want to die inert in the ICU, surrounded by machines and strangers. The client wants to die at home, surrounded by loved ones, at a time when they retain the presence of mind to make peace.
But that goal doesn’t just happen from wishing it and stating it. It happens with careful preparation. As the end of life approaches, the clarity we lawyers enjoy can be elusive. When a person gets a prognosis of 2-5 years, where, along that continuum, would be the time to start declining aggressive treatment? Rarely is there a clear event demarcating the time to stop treatment and focus on keeping the client comfortable. There’s always one more intervention that may (or may not) produce a good result. And any decision could create an ever-widening array of complications. More often, step by step, the patient becomes less and less able to exercise autonomy and treatment decisions must be made by caregivers. Again, rarely is there a clear point where the caregiver’s decision is clearly at odds with the patient’s wishes. Too often, a series of decisions can slowly lead away from that clear wish of the client’s when sitting in the attorney’s office.
No matter how clear the Power of Attorney, with all these imponderables, the patient can end up in a situation many miles away from what she wanted. And there’s no possible do-over.
Powerful and clear Power of Attorney documents are an essential first step and our attorneys are glad to take care of that part. Beyond that, though, thorough preparation is essential.
Consider that the best result may be one that cares for comfort right now, in the moment. The question is not necessarily about how long life can be prolonged. The question may be, rather, how comfort can be maintained – in this moment, and then the next moment, and the next. The question is how life can be made better right now.
Make concrete plans. These include specifying what you want to happen if you’re no longer able to live independently; choosing wisely whom you want to act for you, to make sure your plans will be followed; being ready with your healthcare documents before you find yourself deposited in the emergency room or ICU; and seeking the reassurance that your loved ones will be cared-for when you’re no longer there.
There is no doubt that the process in safeguarding quality of life at the end of it is possibly the most challenging of all. But forthrightly engaging in that process will facilitate a passing more in line with your wishes, making it worth the effort. The transition will be smoother and more meaningful for the dying person, and a kinder legacy will be left behind for those who accompany us on this journey.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if we can help you or a loved one with a healthcare plan.
Our firm is dedicated to helping our clients and their loved ones work through issues and implement sound legal planning to address them. If we can help in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact our office at (630) 221-1755.