Personal Directives/Health Care Power of Attorney
We all write our wills, but just as important to have is a personal health care directive/health care power of attorney, laying down the pro-life principles you believe in, and appointing a trusted family member or friend as having power of attorney in health care decisions, should you become unconscious or lose communication abilities. It's important to choose someone who shares your beliefs and values for this role. Having this Health Care Power of Attorney document will ensure that ethical decisions will be made in your time of need.
A common confusion is that the person named as health care power of attorney must be the executor named in your will. Different people can fulfill the different roles, or the same person can fulfill both roles, whichever you want. The two things are not related.
To order the "Life-Protecting Power of Attorney for Personal Care," click here. Please talk to your family and include this information with your legal documents.
Protecting Your Life in Today's Hospital
by Rita Marker & Alex Schadenberg
A lot of people think advance planning about health care is only for those who are very sick or very old. But that’s not the case at all. It’s absolutely essential that anyone who is 18 years or older have an advanced directive - but not just any type of advanced directive.
Suppose, after you finish reading this column, you walk across the street and a car hits you. If you are badly injured and you can’t make health care decisions for a few days, who will make them for you?
Unless you have specifically named someone to make decisions for you, you run the risk that a health care provider or some committee could end up making critical decisions affecting your life and health. That’s why it’s important to have an advanced directive.
There’s another reason, too. Hospitals will usually inform all adults — the woman in labor, the young man receiving treatment for an injury, the person who has a life-threatening condition — about advanced directives upon admission. In fact most nursing homes or retirement residences will not accept an application for admission without the person first having an advanced directive.
Many health facilities go beyond providing simple information. They actually give patients or residents a Living Will (Power of Attorney for Personal Care) to sign at the time of admission — at the very time they’re under stress and are filling out pages of other required forms. Signing an advanced directive under those conditions is very risky.
It is so important that you have the type of advanced directive that will protect you.
And it’s vital that you only sign such a document after you have been able to review it at your leisure.
There are many types of advanced directives, and some, like the "Living Will" are downright dangerous.
The Living Will (sometimes called a directive or a declaration) is a document that gives power and authority to an "attending physician" to withhold or withdraw medical treatment and care under certain circumstances. Because your attending physician may be a total stranger who is completely unfamiliar with your values and wishes, that physician may interpret terms in the document in a way you didn’t intend. Your family and others who know your wishes have no legal standing to interpret the meaning of the document. Other "directives" or "declarations" have wording that is so vague that they are open to broad interpretation (or misinterpretation).
The most protective and the most flexible type of advanced directive is the Power of Attorney for Personal Care (health care) which is recognized in all provinces in Canada. With this type of document, you designate someone else to make health care decisions on your behalf if you’re temporarily or permanently unable to make these decisions for yourself. The person you name is called your "attorney" or "agent".
But, remember, a Power of Attorney for Personal Care is a legal document. As with any legal document, its wording is extremely important.
That’s why the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition developed the Life-Protecting Power of Attorney for Personal Care, a power of attorney for personal care that includes specific wording to protect a person’s rights in the current medical climate.
The Life-Protecting Power of Attorney for Personal Care specifically prohibits assisted suicide and euthanasia. It was originally designed for use in Ontario, but it is legal for use throughout Canada.
For example, nowadays some health care providers have taken it upon themselves to put Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders in place without the patient’s or attorney’s/agent’s authorization. Similarly, some health care providers are deciding what is "appropriate" or "beneficial" for, or wanted by, the patient. So the Life-Protecting Power of Attorney for Personal Care makes it clear that DNR orders and decisions about "appropriate" or "beneficial" are to be made only by your attorney/agent (and only if you’re not able to do so yourself).
The document limits your attorney’s/agent’s authority in one specific way. Unlike other advanced directives, the Life-Protecting Power of Attorney for Personal Care clearly states that your attorney/ agent does not have the authority to approve the direct and intentional ending of your life. For example, your attorney/agent may not authorize that you be given an intentional drug overdose. Furthermore, your attorney/ agent may not direct that you be denied food or fluids for the purpose of causing your death by starvation and dehydration. This limitation not only protects you, but it also protects your attorney/agent from being subjected to pressure to authorize such actions or omissions.
Taking the time now to name someone to make health care decisions for you takes only a few minutes, far less time than preparing for a snowstorm. And it can be just as important.
Further Background Information:
Don't Wait To Make Your End-of-Life Wishes Known by John F. Kilner. An overview of personal directives and their importance
Hydration and Nutrition
In recent years, we've seen a number of cases where there have been disputes between doctors and patients' families over the hydration and nutrition of patients. In layman's terms, over whether to give water and food to patients. The Terri Schiavo case brought the public's attention to the dispute, but hydration and nutrition has been withheld in Canada in less extreme situations.
It's important to write in your personal directive that you do not want hydration and nutrition to be withheld. The form Edmonton Prolife has available covers this point. It's also good sense to appoint someone who agrees with your principles as your health attorney.
Hydration and Nutrition: A Basic Human Need, Not an Option of Medical Care by Carolyn F. Gerster, M.D.
Obligation to Receive Treatment?
People often question whether a pro-life person is obliged to undergo any possible treatment, or whether they can choose to forego treatment, even if that means they'll die more quickly.
The important distinction to make when judging any decision which might lead to death is whether that decision causes death, or whether it lets natural events take their course. A person taking poison is causing death. A person who decides not to undergo a treatment that is terribly painful and would just postpone death a bit longer, that person is not causing death, but letting death take its course.
End of Life Decisions: To view a conversation with Archbishop Richard Smith about what the Catholic Church says about end of life issues, click here. This may also be helpful to non-Catholics as well.
Palliative Care and Pain Control
Respect for the sanctity of life and opposition to Euthanasia does not mean that death should be as painful as possible. Modern medicine can alleviate pain to a remarkable degree, when doctors focus on the needs of the patient.
Palliative Care and Pain Control - What is it?
The Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association -The national association provides leadership in hospice palliative care in Canada.
Compassionate Community Care (CCC) is a registered charity comprised of health care professionals and volunteers who provide support to vulnerable persons and their families during times of illness and crisis.
Death: Pro-Life Perspectives
Gathered here are several pro-life personal perspectives on death and dying.
Still in the World: A Pro-life View of Dying - Joe Carter's reflections on his mother's death
Suffering Together- A Biblical reflection on death by Arthur J. Dyck