Living Wills or Healthcare Power of Attorney

It’s that time again, the time when I ask everyone if they have a living will or power of attorney in the event of a tragedy or emergency.

Almost without fail, the answer is ‘no.’

Without one, you are going to be at the whim of whomever is around at the time. It probably won’t be the person you trust the most, the doctor you like, or your best friend. It will likely be the sister you loathe, or the mother who abandoned you fifteen years ago in another violent fit of rage.

(Sidenote: In a society which incorporates organ donation with the ability to drive, I would like to know why we don’t have a default system in place for living wills and all similar tools to help us live and die as we wish.)

Seeing families argue, sometimes with great abandon and anger, over the guilt-filled issue of whether someone should be put on life support, be administered CPR or any other critical question has only hardened my opinion further.

Here’s the secret: most people want NO extraordinary efforts to save them if they are older or if they are so physically damaged that they will never live a normal life. Our fear of death or disability is so entrenched that it clouds our ability to make decisions in advance of the need. While most people don’t wish to be put on life support with almost no hope of recovery, their guilt almost universally makes them unable to say so when they are deciding for their loved ones.

We prolong our loved ones lives, praying and hoping for a miracle, most of time while knowing that they would prefer to be let go. In many cases, some of us would rather be ‘medicated’ into a relaxed death, even though we might survive in the strictest sense of the word.

There is no shame in letting a person die as they wish.

The shame is that so many of us haven’t taken a moment to ensure than no one has to stress about what to do with us as medical emergencies happen. If my head is smashed in and I’m in a coma or brain dead, doctors might be able to save me. But at what cost? I’m just one human being among billions. People will miss me. But I would rather them miss me at the end of a normal run of life, not at the long, torturous end of a medially-prolonged trauma.