Taking life into your own hands

By Marlena Hartz : CNJ staff writer

New Mexico’s Advance Directive for Health Care states in plain lettering: “You have the right to give instructions about your own health care.” The standard 8-by-11 inch document, popularly referred to as a living will, can be obtained from most law firms and hospitals.

But as the Terri Schiavo case underscores, questions arising as a result of incapacitation are rarely easy to address. The case rehashed religious debates for some, and for others, it merely underlined the importance of preparing a document to express which avenue health officials should undertake in the case of patient incapacitation.

Diane Baca, director of nursing at Clovis Community Homecare, Inc., deals with such issues daily. Baca said it is mandatory for her staff to provide patients with information regarding living wills. In her profession, Baca said, 75 to 80 percent of her patients are legally and mentally unprepared. However, Baca said when the subject is broached her patients generally seem relieved.

“When you question them, they say, ‘I didn’t know where to get the information.’ But they seem to be receptive,” Baca said. Baca also stressed the importance of being prepared.
“Make arrangements ahead of time. Nobody wants to be left with that decision. It makes it so much easier for family members during a stressful time,” Baca said.

In the 20 years Max Best has been a practicing attorney, he has informed countless Clovis residents about living wills.
“As a matter of principle,” Best said, “people are reluctant to address issues of death, but in light of the Schiavo case, we have had more questions.”

“People want to be protected from having to undergo the same battle that they underwent,” Best said.

Because the Catholic Church maintains a pro-life stance, whether or not to draft a living will can be a confusing subject for a Catholic.

For James D’Agostino, CEO of the Roosevelt General Hospital, who also happens to be a Catholic, religion and issues of advance health directives belong in two separate categories.

“I have a living will. The Schiavo case made people more aware of the legal entanglements involved with not having a legal directive,” D’Agostino said. “If I don’t want artificial means of support to prolong my life, it’s ultimately my individual responsibility to declare that. The key is that you’re in sound mind and not sick when you fill out a directive. It relieves family members of the responsibility.”

Attorney at law Richard Rowley routinely talks of living wills with his customers. For him, religion should not be a factor.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian, a Baptist, or a Muslim, religion has nothing to do with it (living wills), it doesn’t matter,” Rowley said.

“You have the right to decide if you want to be artificially kept alive,” Rowley said.

Fast facts
• A living will is a document that allows you to specify what should be done about life-sustaining procedures if, in the future, your death from a terminal condition is imminent despite the application of life-sustaining procedures or you are in a persistent vegetative state.

• Power of attorney: gives named individual the right to make decisions regarding anything from a person’s estate to end-of-life decisions.

• Right to resucitate: In New Mexico’s AHCD (available at hospices, hospitals, law firms, and downloadable on the Internet) there is a section entitled “end-of-life decisions.” In this section, you must check if you want to be revived, or if you want your life to be prolonged.

Source: CNJ staff and Zentmyer & Fogarty LLP