The New York Times reports that as the great anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela remains in critical condition, his family is facing some very difficult decisions regarding his end-of-life care, particularly whether or not to continue life support.
You can make it easier on your family by establishing some guidelines for them to follow by preparation of advanced health care directives ― a living will and the designation of a health care proxy.
What is a living will?
A living will is a document in which you give instructions regarding the giving or withholding of your medical treatment (CPR, mechanical respirators and feeding tubes, etc.) in the event you have been medically declared terminal with no hope of recovery. You may also specify whether you want to be given the maximum dosage of painkillers, even if it becomes addictive and/or hastens your death.
When will the living will be used?
The living will would only used if you are unable to give health care instructions yourself. Your instructions must be followed in the event that you have a terminal condition, are permanently unconscious or are suffering from irreversible brain damage.
What is a health care proxy?
A health care proxy is a document in which you appoint an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf. It also takes effect only upon your incapacity. Your attorney can ― with your guidance ― prepare a detailed document that specifies your general wishes regarding a variety of medical circumstances, taking into account your personal, religious beliefs and health care philosophy.
Who should I appoint as my health care agent?
You can appoint any competent adult to be your health care agent ― but not your doctor or an employee of your hospital or nursing home unless they are a relative or were appointed before your admission. You should appoint someone who you know understands your wishes and will act in accordance with them. You should also appoint a substitute agent in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to act.
If you change your mind, you can always cancel or change your advanced health care directives. Although standard forms for living wills and health care proxies are available, these generic forms are no substitute for detailed documents prepared by an attorney who is familiar with the legal issues that arise in an end-of-life situations. Contact an experienced Staten Island elder law attorney to ensure your documentation meets your needs.