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How to Decide What Happens if You Get Put on Life Support

California Law on Medical Planning and Life Support Decisions

When you’re meeting with your Los Angeles estate planning attorney, you should be ready to talk about what happens if you’re put on life support. This is a significant decision that requires a great deal of thought and consideration. Beyond your own wishes, you must also know how California law impacts life support decisions. The last thing you want is to be without a proper plan in place while you’re incapacitated.

Instead of leaving these crucial decisions up to chance, take some time to go over options with your Los Angeles estate planning lawyer today.

What is Life Support?

Life support is a broad term that refers to any combination of medicine and machines that keeps a person’s body alive. Most people think of ventilators and feeding tubes, but there are a variety of ways medical professionals can keep a person alive.

Life support isn’t just for end-of-life care, as you might think. When patients are undergoing complicated surgeries, they require life support systems to keep them going while doctors perform their work. Those who are recovering traumatic injuries may also require life support to help them get back on their feet.

There are times, however, when patients permanently need life support systems to keep them alive. These patients may never actually recover or regain the ability to function on their own. In these instances, it may be up to family members or friends to make tough decisions on behalf of the patient.

Some of the most common reasons doctors put their patients on life support are

  • Organ failure
  • Blood loss
  • Infections that become septic

Your Life is Your Choice

Your Los Angeles estate planning attorney can help you create directives that guide others through your wishes in the case that you are incapacitated the relying on life support to survive. If you create the appropriate guidelines according to California state law, your instructions should be followed.

Your lawyer will most likely help you create a living will. This is a legal document that tells others about your end-of-life medical treatment. You can list the kinds of procedures you’ll want or not want to prolong your life. Since doctors aren’t able to ask you personally, your living will make your wishes clear.

There are two common types of instructions that people consider. These “advanced directives” help doctors know to what lengths they can go to keep a patient alive. If there are no instructions, doctors will typically make the best choice they can with the information they have.

DNR: Do Not Resuscitate

With a DNR, you would not be given a breathing tube or even revived if you stop breathing or experience cardiac arrest. For example, if you were hospitalized and had a heart attack, a DNR would prohibit medical staff from performing CPR.

While some might find it odd to have a DNR, there are several instances when this is appropriate. For some patients, they don’t like the idea of being brought back to life. They may believe that when it’s their time to go, they should be allowed to do so.

On top of that, there are instances when performing CPR, or another life-saving technique could do more harm than good. For example, older patients might end up with broken ribs from CPR. These broken ribs are painful and hard to mend on some patients. Resuscitating this patient could just put them in immense pain during their final moments.

AND: Allow Natural Death

With an AND, doctors won’t use medicine or machines to keep you alive. They will, however, do everything they can to keep you comfortable and pain-free. The idea is to just let nature take its course.

Many people who choose an AND don’t like the idea of being kept alive without having their full capacity. Those with terminal diseases often come to terms with their ultimate demise and decide not to delay the inevitable.

Life Support Decisions by a Surrogate

Even if you have a living will and advanced directives, you may not have covered every possible situation. That’s why it’s crucial to appoint a medical power of attorney. This surrogate is also known as a health care proxy. The person you name acts as your agent to make medical decisions on your behalf.

A medical proxy cannot override your living will, so you don’t have to worry about your wishes being ignored. Imagine that a new treatment has become available that could keep you alive. If your living will has instructions not to keep you alive past a certain point, your healthcare power of attorney cannot compel doctors to use that treatment.

At the same time, if you do not have a living will, all healthcare decisions will be up to your healthcare proxy.

How to Choose a Healthcare Power of Attorney

While most people default on making their spouse or children their healthcare proxies, that isn’t always possible.

Regardless of your situation, you need someone whom you can trust. Your medical proxy does not need to be a family member. This person is responsible for making decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself.

Your surrogate will have to make some pretty tough decisions and may not have much time to think or pray about it. You want to have a sincere and honest conversation with potential surrogates to ensure they understand your wishes and are up for the task.

Make sure you consider the following elements when choosing your surrogate:

  • They should be able to make decisions on your behalf, even if those decisions are different than what they would do for themselves.
  • They will stand up for you and your rights and wishes.
  • They should be comfortable talking to and asking questions regarding your medical care.
  • They must be calm in a crisis and deal with ever-changing situations.

In most states, your medical power of attorney cannot be the following:

  • A member of your healthcare team.
  • The administrator or employee of the nursing home or healthcare facility where you receive care.
  • Anyone you have a civil order against, you are in the process of divorcing, or you have divorced.

Meet with an Estate Planning Attorney Today

Besides helping you with all of the critical elements of your estate plan, your Los Angeles estate planning attorney can walk you through everything you need to know about making decisions while on life support and choosing a surrogate. If you don’t have these elements in place, your care may not go anywhere near your wishes.

Don’t leave your care up to chance and get started on your estate plan today. Call us to get in touch with an estate planning specialist!

Thomas McKenzie Law
Estate Planning Attorney in California. Full-service law firm specializing in estate plans, wills and trusts, long-term care, and financial consulting. Thomas L. McKenzie received his Juris Doctor degree from Western State University College of Law, in Fullerton, California. While working full-time at night and attending full-time daily classes, Tom graduated law school with honors in 1993.

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