Living Wills ?Why Equestrians Should Consider Them
Editor's note: This week's column differs from our usual question-and-answer format
because we received multiple requests to address this timely topic.
The recent news coverage of Terri Schiavo, a 39-year-old Florida woman who suffered brain damage in 1990 from a heart attack, has renewed public interest in living wills. Terri's parents and brother contend that she communicates with them and that through rehabilitative therapy, she can learn to receive nutrition without the feeding tube that now keeps her alive. Terri's husband contends that she is in a persistent vegetative state from which she will never recover. He wants to have his wife's feeding tube removed, asserting that he is merely carrying out her wishes not to be kept alive under such circumstances. Terri's parents petitioned the Florida courts to prevent the removal of the feeding tube, and the case received international media attention when the courts rejected the parents? petition and permitted removal of the feeding tube. The case took a dramatic turn several days later when Florida state legislators passed a bill permitting Florida Governor Jeb Bush to order that the feeding tube be reinstated. Governor Bush promptly signed the bill into law and ordered the reinstatement of the feeding tube.
If Terri had created a living will prior to her heart attack, her family would not be struggling with the decision to end her life. Living wills, also called advance directives, are written records created to document what life saving measures you would like taken (or not taken) in the event that you suffer from a serious health condition and can't communicate. With a living will, Terri's family would be certain of what Terri would have wanted, however difficult it might be for them to reconcile her wishes with their own beliefs. If her living will specified that she would not wish to be kept alive by a feeding tube, her husband, who has the power to make health care decisions on her behalf, could order the removal of her feeding tube. Because Terri did not create a living will, her family is left to speculate about what she would want, which is clearly excruciatingly painful for them.
Most of us don't plan for traumatic health events ?it's just easier not to think about it. We are healthy and active, not yet forced to consider our own mortality. However, in pursuing our passion for horses, we place our lives and well being in jeopardy every day. Today our horse could spook at a shadow, step in a ground squirrel hole or kick the daylights out of us when we body clip his stomach. Tomorrow we could have a car accident on the way to the barn. If our family arrived at the hospital to find us brain dead, alive only with the help of machines, would they know what to do?
To help your family with difficult health care decisions, you can create a living will. The American Bar Association's Commission on Law and Aging publishes a free online tool kit designed to help you consider what you want and discuss it with your family and health care providers. Once you decide what your wishes are, you can use free forms available at the U.S. Living Will Registry to create your own living will. Be sure to follow your state's guidelines for enforceability. For example, many states require that living wills be witnessed and notarized. You can usually find a notary at your local bank, and many copy-service and mail-service businesses, such as Kinko's and Mailboxes, Etc. also offer notary services.
Once you have created your living will, keep one copy in an easily accessible place at home and the original in your safety deposit box. Give a copy to each of your health care providers and family members and talk it over with them to make sure they understand it. Attach a note to the back of your driver's license stating that you have a living will and where a copy can be found. It just might be the most important document youll ever need.