Q: When it comes time, I just want the family to pull the plug. Is a living will enough or do I need something else? What about a DNR?
A: Whenever I hear the phrase “pull the plug” I think of a television sitcom. A well placed “pull the plug” line can make anyone laugh; even me. The unfortunate thing is it’s getting a cheap laugh off something that is very serious. That’s probably why it’s so funny.
End of life decisions can be one of the most difficult things that we face in our lives. Even if you have strong views on the matter, I guarantee that the decision to remove someone from life support or withhold medical care will be difficult. After all, you’re saying goodbye to someone you love.
To me, an Advanced Medical Directive is one of the most important documents in your estate plan. It’s your opportunity to leave legally binding instructions for when the end is near.
The most common AMD, and the one that most people have heard of, is the living will. In the event you are terminally ill, that death will occur within a short period of time, and providing medical care will only prolong the dying process, a living will allows you direct that medical care be withheld.
However, it doesn’t apply to things that are provided to keep you comfortable during the dying process. It simply means that if you are terminally ill, extraordinary measures will not be taken if all it will do is force your body to stay alive.
The flip side of the living will is the life-prolonging procedure declaration. This document basically requests all medical care available to keep you around as long as possible. It’s the “I’m not going out without a fight” document.
A Do Not Resuscitate is a medical order prepared by your doctor. I’m clearly not a physician, but as I understand it, a DNR instructs that CPR not be provided. I’m sure there is more to it than that, but what’s important to understand is that a DNR comes from a doctor, not an attorney.
Finally, a health care representative designation likely contains end of life decision making authority, and that’s good. However, all you are doing is telling someone else to make that decision for you, and hoping that they will make the right decision. They probably will make the right decision, but don’t you want a say on the matter? I know that I do.
"Pulling the plug" is a humorous way to describe what is a pretty awful situation for a family to find itself in. If laughing is what it takes for you to think about this stuff, then laugh away.