All the talk of “end of life counseling” and the demagoguery of “death panels,” raises issues that all of us need to answer: What are your wishes when your time comes? How do you want to die? What steps do you want taken to prolong your life? We should spare our families the guilt of making difficult decisions by making these tough choices ourselves–now. And, we don’t need to wait on a government regulation to start–so what to do?
First, the Death with Dignity Act (S.C. Code §44-77-10, et. seq.) sets forth requirements for a Living Will, which under the Act is referred to as a “Declaration of a Desire for a Natural Death”. It is a simple 3 page document, which you decide the end of life treatments to be provided or withheld. A Living Will only instructs the doctor if you are permanently unconscious or otherwise unable communicate your wishes.
The other legal document which you should consider is a Health Care Power of Attorney (S.C. Code §62-5-504). The main difference between a Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney is that Health Care Power of Attorney is more specific and flexible. Not only can you specify the treatments/procedures you don’t want, you can also specify care you want to be sure that you receive. In this document you will name an agent who will tell the doctor the treatments which should or should not be provided in case you become incapacitated. You should appoint a person you trust and who knows how you feel about your health care. You also should name at least one alternate, who will make decisions if your agent is unable or unwilling to make these decisions.
Should I have both?
Yes, but you should make sure both are consistent. However, perhaps the best option is to complete the Five Wishes document, which is legally recognized in South Carolina.
These are difficult decisions, which should be given much thought and consideration. If you’re unsure about what to do next, talk to your health care provider or an attorney knowledgeable in this area. Both of these advance directives must be prepared and signed while you are competent. So no matter what you choose, do it now, while it is YOUR decision. Don’t put off the tough decisions for someone else to have to make later.
Note: Health Care Power of Attorneys should not be confused with a durable general power of attorney, which authorizes another to transact business or to take financial decisions on your behalf. A Living Will is different than a last will and testament. Again, if you are uncertain about the legal documents which are best suited to your situation, then discuss this with a trusted attorney.