The failure of the Colorado legislature to pass Right to Die legislation makes it even more important to have an Advanced Medical Directive and Medical Durable Power of Attorney. Similar to living wills, but more powerful, these documents allow someone you trust to stand in your shoes if you are unable to speak for yourself in a medical crisis. Whether you become very ill for a week, are in a serious accident or are experiencing a long-term decline in health, these documents allow your health care agent to speak for you to be certain you receive the type of care that you find useful rather than care that extends your life no matter what you prefer. These documents cover two kinds of problems so examples of each are provided below:
A 32 year old falls while climbing and suffers a concussion, a broken arm and leg. She is unable to discuss her medical situation with her medical providers for a week because she is either unconscious or delirious from painkiller. During that time, her health care agent is in close communication with her doctors on everything from surgery, painkiller, and type of sedation. When she regains consciousness, she has an additional three weeks in the hospital where some of the time she can discuss her own care with the doctors and other times she cannot. When she cannot, the doctors call her health care agent for guidance on different treatment issues. Once she has fully regained consciousness she resumes making her own medical decisions.
A 42 year old becomes involved in a bike accident and suffers from a catastrophic brain injury and spinal injury. He arrives at the ER unconscious. His doctors agree that they cannot treat his injuries in a manner that would allow to regain any cognition or ability to move and that he is unlikely to regain consciousness. His health care agent discusses with the doctors how best to relieve pain and keep him comfortable. Three days later, the doctors call to warn his health care agent that he has pneumonia and will die without antibiotics. The Health Care Agent confirms there is no change that would allow him to regain consciousness or function so she declines the antibiotics and he dies a day later with family and friends present. In essence, refusing care has allowed this individual to die rather than live an existence where he cannot think or move and remains in a coma. This choice was only possible because he communicated in writing what he wanted by way of qualify of life, as well as his views on medical treatment and then authorized someone he trusted to speak for him.
Most of us will experience a time when we are unable to communicate with the medical professionals who are trying to help us. Don’t put them in an impossible position of either facing malpractice because they tried to help you or be forced to keep you going regardless of whether it is logical or kind. Make your own decisions while you are well and able to consider what you want and then choose people you trust to assist you. Be sure to put this in writing in documents that doctors can legally use. If you have any doubts on how to do this, hire an attorney to draft the documents or at least have any documents you draft yourself reviewed by an attorney to be certain they will work.