Dear Amy, my father is 91 and has dementia. I learned he gave an advance directive with a “do not resuscitate” order to my brother several years ago. I told my brother that giving the DNR order to the doctor was condemning Dad to die and that we should follow Mom’s wishes to keep him alive. How can I get my brother to understand he is tearing our family apart by following these outdated instructions? -Angry in Anaheim (Medford Tribune, August 18, 2015).
Angry in Anaheim is not alone. She joins the rank of countless family members who’ve experienced heated arguments about the handling of a loved one’s medical situation. What Angry in Anaheim didn’t realize, however, was that by creating the advance directive, dad took this decision out of the hands of Mom or brother or Angry. It wasn’t their decision to make, but rather their legal obligation to follow, whatever Dad had directed long ago.
One of the biggest reasons to create an advance directive is to save family members the agony of making these difficult decisions without your direction. It is a legally binding document that explicitly spells out what type of care and life-saving treatments (e.g. tube feeding and life support) you want. You create it while you are healthy and mentally competent, in advance of a medical condition that leaves you unable to express those wishes.
Angry’s father took the important step of doing an advance directive in order to save his family from having the very heated argument they ended up having. Unfortunately, the step he didn’t take was to ensure that the whole family knew that the advance directive existed and exactly what this meant.
And that’s no surprise. Talking about death isn’t socially acceptable in our culture. Many of us live as though we will never die. (See last month’s article). The result is that when we inevitably face our own impending deaths, we leave our loved ones unprepared to make decisions because we have not openly communicated our end-of-life wishes.
Many end-of-life decisions are not covered by an Advance Directive. During an estate planning consultation, I will recommend that you consider additional questions. Do you want your health care representative to have authority for pain management at the end of life or to have control over your medical records and to be part of your long-term care decision making?
Completing an advance directive is one of the single most important things you can do for your loved ones. But it is crucial that you take the next step, uncomfortable and agonizing as it may be, and talk to them about the advance directive. Otherwise, you run the risk of leaving behind an Angry in Anaheim.
Robert (Bob) Good has practiced law in Jackson County for over twenty-five years, specializing in estate planning, wills and trusts, family law and business law. Contact him at his Ashland office at (541) 482-3763.