Dying in Today’s World of Modern Medicine

Is there a point at which you would rather die than live?  I’m not talking about suicide.  That’s a very different issue.  I am talking about being in a situation where, because of today’s technology, your body can be kept alive.  The medical procedure for doing that may be incredibly painful, it may make you nauseous, and it may only keep you alive for a few days.  What would you say?  What would you decide to do?  Now imagine yourself in that situation, but you are unable to communicate your intentions, either because you can’t do it physically or you don’t have the mental capacity to do it.  What then?

Over the next several installments, I will discuss these and related issues and how you can handle them.  You may have heard about certain documents or know something about them, but you may not know how they fit together.

You can name a health care agent through a health care proxy to appoint someone to make medical decisions for you when you cannot.  But what if the health care agent can’t be located?  Are there certain treatments you would want to reject even if your health care agent thinks such treatments would be a good idea?

How do “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) orders work?  Did you know that your doctor has to sign that order?

Many people have heard about the Five Wishes form.  Some doctors will tell you that this form is legally binding if you are incapacitated, even if your health care agent has a different opinion.  A living will is not binding in Massachusetts but shows evidence of intent.

Finally, there are Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (MOLST) forms.  These orders, which have the legal effect of being valid medical orders to health care professionals, can help you and your doctor clarify how you will be treated (and when you will be not treated) in many of these situations.

Typically, no one spends a lot of time talking to clients about these matters.  Your doctor wants to talk about keeping you well and helping you get better.

But when I ask my clients what they worry about most, what keeps them up at night, these questions often come up.  Hopefully, a good estate planning attorney can help you make sure you have this part of your affairs in order.  Duck

About Arthur Bergeron

Art has been practicing law in Massachusetts for over 30 years. He focuses his practice on elder law, estate planning, probate and trust administration, and land use matters. Art counsels senior citizens and their loved ones regarding elder law and special needs planning, asset protection and Medicaid planning. He works with individuals in all areas of estate planning, including wills, trusts, durable powers of attorney, health care proxies and living wills.
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