Wheels of Justice
Why didn’t Terri Schiavo have a living will or health care power of attorney?
Terri Schiavo never thought she would cause a national ruckus over whether or not she should receive food and water, but she did because she had not put her wishes in writing.
What would you want to happen to you? How could you prove what you want to a court of law or even to your doctor? If you don’t know the answers, then you could end up just like Terri.
A living will allows you to retain control over whether your life will be prolonged by medical procedures if you are terminal or in a persistent vegetative state. It will allow you to authorize the withholding of extraordinary means of keeping you alive by means of a respirator or feeding by a tube.
A health care power of attorney allows you to appoint another person who may consent to or refuse medical care for you if your doctor determines you are unable to make those decisions yourself. However, the health care power of attorney will not be effective if a court appoints a guardian to act on your behalf.
Can you have both a living will and a health care power of attorney? Yes, because one gives you control over your choice of health care in the event you are unable to make those decisions, and the other gives you control over designating an individual to act on your behalf. I would suggest you consider having both.
Who should have possession of your living will or health care power of attorney documents? I suggest you give a copy of them to your family physician, attorney and family members. That way you are always covered, and the people who would be contacted in a time of need would have access to the documents. Remember, a living will is not a testamentary will. It makes no provisions for your personal belongings or property after your death. I also recommend you have a testamentary will that will dispose of your property in the manner you want as opposed to allowing the state to decide the outcome of your property.
Contact an attorney in your home state and county to secure these documents. The laws vary widely from state to state, and you’ll need an attorney who practices in the state, county or city where you live.
You can also call your home state secretary of state or attorney general. If you are willing to gamble your life and your belongings, then you can also find downloadable versions of the forms you’ll need on the Internet. If, however, you want to make sure your wishes are followed, then contact an attorney who practices in this area of the law.
Jim C. Klepper is president of Interstate Trucker Ltd., an organization providing legal defense protection to commercial drivers. Jim is a lawyer who focuses on transportation law and the trucking industry in particular. He works to answer your legal questions about trucking and has his Commercial Drivers License.