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End-of-Life Decisions Part II: Should Such Decisions Include Ending One’s Life?

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In Part I of End of Life Decisions, Levine Law discussed the importance of living wills and advance directives in making sure an individual’s desired medical care is implemented even when that person is unable to direct such care. Crucial to fulfilling a person’s wishes is the appointment of a medical durable power of attorney.  (See Part I for a more in-depth explanation of how living wills, advance directives and a POA can  make end-of-life treatment decisions easier.)

The Issues Associated With Dying With Dignity

Advance directives include the idea of “death with dignity” in that they often contain instructions regarding resuscitation, tube feeding, ventilators, palliative care versus aggressive treatment, etc.  People typically specify the efforts they want used to preserve their life, as well as those they do not want, and most will indicate under what circumstances they want certain efforts to be made.  All of this if done with the hope that when the end of life approaches, the person can have some measure of control and dignity.

In Part II of End of Life Decisions, Levine Law looks at the question of how far advance directives should be allowed to go in one’s pursuit of death with dignity.  Recently, this issue has been front and center on the nation’s ethical radar, garnering a story in nearly every media source worth mentioning.  The reason: a terminally-ill 29-year-old woman who moved to Oregon so that she could take advantage of that state’s assisted dying law.  She has advanced brain cancer, and was given six months to live.  During what little time she has left, she has been collaborating with a movement called “Compassion and Choices” to promote the right to die with dignity in other states. 

Your Denver medical malpractice attorney explains that currently, five states have right-to-die laws:  Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana, and New Mexico.  Compassion and Choices is campaigning in Colorado to put right-to-die legislation on the ballot.  California has had such legislation on the ballot several times, but it has not passed.  Campaigns are also ongoing in a few other states.

Although all states allow people to decline “extraordinary means” to preserve life, and most people agree that preventing suffering at the end of life is a worthy goal, crossing the line from a Do Not Resuscitate order and palliative care to prescribing lethal medication to the terminally ill is still not widely accepted. 

Your Denver medical malpractice attorney points out that the American Medical Association is against assisted suicide, and 67 percent of healthcare providers are as well.  Many people fear the slippery slope of what starts out as a right can become an expectation. The terminally ill may feel pressure to end their life as a cheaper and less burdensome option than following the illness through its natural course.  In addition, people with chronic illnesses, the elderly and disabled may feel the implicit or explicit devaluation of their lives, and as their conditions deteriorate they may turn to assisted suicide. 

If you would like information on advance directives and how to plan your end-of-life decisions, contact Jordan Levine at the Levine Law Firm as soon as possible.