Pass the cranberry sauce; have you got a living will?

Thanksgiving ideal time to discuss end-of-life issues, experts say
by Paula Burkes Published: November 27, 2013

While the family's together this Thanksgiving, talk to them about your living will — or what you want doctors to do, or not to do — if you're ever in a coma or unable to make medical decisions.

This goes for every adult at the table — not just Granddad and your great-aunt Betty. Earlier this month, a 32-year-old Indiana deer hunter chose to end life support after a fall from a tree left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. He'd recently talked to his wife about end-of-life wishes, which he confirmed by shaking his head “no” when family members asked if he wanted to live.

But you and I one day may be unable to speak for ourselves — and that's why we need written living wills, which are easy forms that can be completed without an attorney and state the limits, if any, you want to set on medical care.

A living will, or “advance directive,” includes a section on organ donation and lets you authorize a person or people to sign do-not-resuscitate orders or make other medical care decisions for you in case you become so ill that you can't do it yourself.

Need appears

I've seen the need for living wills within my own circles.

Thanksgiving weekend six years ago, acute leukemia claimed my best friend, Martha, who suffered a stroke during one of her final treatments that robbed her of her speech. We hadn't yet turned 50.

And, over the last several years, I've had two friends — Jim and Kathy — who, with little warning, lost consciousness, and eventual brain activity, due to aneurysms. Their families had to make the decision to take them off life support.

The late Laura Cross, an Oklahoma City health care attorney who trumpeted living wills for decades before she herself was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer, once told me that many people don't sign living wills because they incorrectly believe the legal document limits their health care choices.

“But the document has no force and effect until you can't make your own decisions,” she said.

For example, Cross' advance directive specified she wanted no administration of artificial nutrition or hydration, yet at the time of our interview, she was being fed intravenously.

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by Paula Burkes
Reporter
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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How to obtain

a living will

The legal document is free and is available under “Forms” at senior-law.org. It also can be obtained from hospitals and aging agencies. It requires two adult witnesses who aren't heirs or relatives.

Most people can make their own health care decisions until their last day or so, even people with terminal cancer.”

Laura Cross,
A late health care attorney

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