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 How can I get my brother to understand he is tearing our family apart by following these outdated instructions?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 Aneheim” 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 from the agony of having to make these awful decisions themselves. It is a legally-binding document that explicitly spells out what type of care and life-saving treatments (e.g. tube feeding, CPR, life support) a person wants. It is created while the person is healthy and mentally competent, in advance of any medical condition leaving them unable to express these wishes themselves.
“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 fun, and it also isn’t socially acceptable in our culture. In America, death is a taboo subject. It’s not talking about the upcoming trip to Disneyland or the surprise party you’re planning for your friend. It’s simply not fun, and is in fact rather scary. So we ignore it.
The result is that when we inevitably face our own impending deaths, we leave our loved ones totally unprepared and frightened, and in far worse shape than if we had openly communicated about our end-of-life wishes.
Doing 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 years, specializing in family law, estate planning and administration and business law. Contact him at his Ashland office at (541) 482-3763.