It is important to put your end of life plans down in legal documents while you are still healthy because you probably will not have the time, energy, or the sound mind required to do these simple tasks once a terminal illness strikes. Many basic legal documents are available for free online. For those with the money it takes to hire a lawyer, it is possible to have individualized documents drawn up. The basic actions include:
(1) drawing up a will,
(2) drawing up a living will
(3) drawing up a medical power of attorney
(4) drawing up a durable power of attorney.
(5) discussing your living will directions with your doctors, and making sure that they each have a copy in their files.
(6) advocating for passage of a comprehensive “death with dignity” law for your state.
(7) Make a donation. It will magnify your voice by supporting us.
The will allows you to say what you want done with your money and other property.
Your living will allows you to say what sorts of treatments you want to accept and what sorts of treatments you do not want to accept when you may not be capable of speaking for yourself. It provides guidance to doctors and other health-care professionals who provide care to you. It also serves as a guide to the person who has your medical power of attorney.
Your medical power of attorney is authorized to make medical decisions for you when you are not mentally able to make your own decisions (e.g., when you are unconscious or obviously not mentally competent to make them for yourself). Be careful to select someone who knows what you want for end of life decisions and who will abide by your wishes laid out in your living will. Unfortunately, some doctors and nurses choose not to look for a living will. Worse yet, some choose to ignore a living will already posted in your hospital chart. That is when your medical power of attorney can step in and advocate for you by insisting that they follow your living will and follow the specific choices made by your medical power of attorney.
Your durable power of attorney would be able to make financial decisions for you when you are not mentally competent to do so. Be very careful in selecting a durable power of attorney to choose somebody who is honest and who will lookout for your best interests.
Discussing your living will with your doctor and seeing to it that they have a copy on file is important. You may find that, unbeknownst to you, your doctor can not honestly say that he or she can honor your wishes regarding when to provide comfort measures. Would your doctor be willing to write a prescription for a lethal dose if you only had six months to live and you wanted to decide when you wanted to stop the pain and suffering? If one or both of your doctor’s answers is “NO,” it would be wise to find a doctor who can ethically comply with your wishes. If you think that all doctors are the same, just remember that doctors start out like everybody else. Depending on how your doctor was raised and what religious affiliation he or she has, you may find that he or she is rigid and unable to ethically follow your living will. Unfortunately, like most people, doctors who can’t follow your wishes will not ever change their minds. That is why identifying these problems makes switching physicians so important to your own well-being.
What about being able to sign up for a lethal dose of medication when you have six months to live, there is no reasonable hope or a cure, and your life is so full of pain and suffering that you would rather die than endure any more of what you are already enduring? That depends on whether you are fortunate enough to live in one of the ten states that provide a “death with dignity” option. These ten states include (in order of passing laws) Oregon, Washington State, Vermont, Colorado, California, Washington, DC, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine., and Montana. Unlike the first nine states, in Montana, the state supreme court has decided that taking a lethal dose prescribed by your doctor is not illegal under current state laws. For our purposes here, we’ll call this unfortunate majority of US citizens, “out of state residents.” Many “out of state residents” mistakenly believe that they can travel to one of the aforementioned states at the last minute if they need a prescription for a lethal dose. Unfortunately, laws in each of the aforementioned ten states restrict that privilege to residents of that state. Other US citizens must go through the steps necessary to attain state citizenship in one of the other ten states. Most “out of state residents” who would qualify for a lethal dose prescription find that they do not have the time, the financial resources, or the energy to move to another state at that terrible time in their lives. If you are an “out of state resident,” you may want to donate money to an advocacy group fighting to make your state the next to pass a “death with dignity” law and you may want to ask your law makers to pass a “death with dignity” law. US polls show that a majority of US citizens would support having access to a lethal dose of medication. However, voter apathy and the hesitancy of lawmakers to offend the groups advocating against “death with dignity” laws will require our banding together to develop a vocal majority advocating for passage of a “death with dignity” law. You can start advocating for death with dignity laws by calling and emailing your lawmakers, joining Exit Options, Inc., and making a donation.
Make a donation and support our efforts. Each of us may have only one vote, a little time, and a little money to spare to advocate for this cause. However, if we join together, recruit friends and others to join us, and we use Exit Options, Inc. to guide our actions, we can become an army big enough to achieve our shared goal of optimizing the end of life options available to each of us.