The Importance of Designating a Health Care Surrogate, (Living Will)

We all seek to minimize the trauma endured by our loved ones at the time of our demise.  We should, thus, not underestimate the importance of designating a health surrogate that will implement our medical care preferences.  This can be achieved by the execution of a document known as “Living Will.”  This surrogate will have the authority to act on one’s behalf in the event one loses the capacity to make medical decisions.  The classic example is when a person falls into a comatose state as a result of an accident or medical condition.

In this document a person that will act as your Power-of- Attorney is designated and conveyed the authority to implement one’s preferences as to medical treatment if incapacity precludes one from expressing preferences to the  medical provider(s).  In the event a person falls into a permanent vegetative state, the surrogate is authorized to reject medical treatment extending life through artificial means.  One could also instruct a surrogate to direct medical providers to keep one alive regardless of the circumstances. Moreover, upon leaving specific instructions, family members will not have to bear the burden of making this difficult decision.

The case that best illustrates the importance of executing this type of instrument, is the famous Terry Schiavo case in Florida.  Terry Schiavo was a young woman that suffered a myocardial infraction that deprived her of oxygen to the brain for approximately 14 minutes and caused significant brain damage.  The young lady fell in a vegetative state which lasted approximately fifteen years.  The years of medical treatment were unsuccessful, and it became obvious that her vegetative state was irreversible.  As a result, her husband, Mr. Schiavo decided, with the concurrence of her doctors, that continuing to maintain her alive through artificial means was inhuman. 

Mrs. Schiavo’s parents opposed this decision, which provoked one of the  most controversial legal battles in this country’s history.  After hearing the testimony of the medical personnel, the Court decided that Mr. Schiavo had the right to stop the use of artificial means.  All appeals were exhausted, as were the political maneuverings that need not be discussed.  At last, the Courts upheld the right of Mr. Schiavo to decide the fate of his wife.  Unfortunately, however, the animosity created during this judicial battle divided this family forever. 

Had Mrs. Schiavo executed a document expressing her preferences, the emotional trauma caused to this family as a result of this prolonged litigation could have been avoided.  There is no doubt that the husband and the parents of this young lady loved her very much, which is why they fought to pursue the outcome they believed she would have preferred.  Since she never expressed her preferences, no one will ever know who was right.  I have found various model documents on the Internet that claim to be legally sufficient.  One must be careful in using these model contracts because not all contemplate particular situations that may be applicable to particular circumstances.  Therefore, I recommend that people seek the attorney of preference and instruct him/her to draft a living will with specific desires.  The death of a loved one even though tragic tends to unite the surviving family.  By contrast, in the case of Mrs. Schiavo, the animosity created through the judicial battles did not make this unity possible. 

Luis A. González
Attorney and Mediator
L. A. González Law Offices, P.A

(407) 649 - 8389