The past several weeks have brought us the tragic story of a young woman, pregnant with her second child, and also “brain dead”. The story unfolded several months ago in Texas when Marlise Munoz suddenly passed out for a considerable amount of time before being found. The damage was catastrophic and not surprisingly, her family wanted more than anything to ensure she wasn’t in pain. There were concerns about whether the fetus she carried could become a full term newborn. As it turned out, the baby too had suffered a catastrophic blow, yet the hospital refused to take her off of life support. The reasoning was it did not want to take the life of an unborn child and a state law would serve as the foundation for its argument. Advanced directives could have eliminated most of these problems.
Heart Wrenching Realities
While her family continued to insist she would not want to exist in her current state, no one knew for sure whether the baby could continue to even grow and develop in a dead body that was functioning via machines. Munoz did not have any type of medical directive and because of that, the hospital and the family were at odds. The family sued and won when a Texas judge gave the hospital three days to remove her from life support.
While this was most certainly a tragic story, it’s also a reminder to the importance of proper estate planning. This family might could have avoided the weeks-long stress had the woman put into place a medical power of attorney. It should be noted, however, that the Texas hospital cited a law (actually misinterpreted) that prevented it from removing an expectant woman from life support. For the past two-plus months, Munoz remained in a coma and with every passing day, it became clear that not only would she not recover, but her baby could not recover either. The law was subjective, but the reality was static.
Here are a few options you might want to consider should your family be faced with the difficult choice of how to handle your medical care should you become unable to do so.
A financial durable power of attorney allows you to name someone to make financial decisions on your behalf. It’s versatile in that it can go into effect right away or later down the line should it become necessary.
A durable power of attorney for health care is similar to its financial counterpart in that it allows you to name someone to make difficult medical decisions if you’re ever incapacitated.
Many people are familiar with a living will, a document that tells your doctors and/or hospitals what kind – if any – artificial efforts should be made to keep you alive. It’s often quite detailed and ideally will allow for most any type of scenario. For instance, a living will often contains instructions for providing nourishment and fluids and for how long they should be administered before removing you from life support. Taking the living will a step further, it too puts into place your wishes while also allowing you to name someone else as an agent to make those unexpected decisions for you.
These are all very difficult realities and coming full circle with our own mortality is challenging for even the strongest of souls; still, it’s crucial these protective mechanisms are put into place in order to ease the burden on your family.
Your estate planning attorney can help compile those documents so that they’re legal and binding. The more detailed you are, the better the ultimate outcome should your family be in a situation similar to what the Munoz family now faces.