Last week the sad saga of Marlise Munoz, a brain-dead Texas woman, came to an end as hospital officials complied with a Court order to remove her from life support some two months after she was found unconscious by her husband. This case again highlights the complexities involved in end of life care as well as the need for preplanning using health care proxies and advance directives.
In this case, Marlise was a 33 year old wife and mother. Her husband had come home from work to find her unconscious on the kitchen floor, apparently due to a brain embolism. Even more tragic, she was 14 weeks pregnant at the time with her second child.
Though doctors had pronounced her brain dead and acknowledged that the fetus she carried was not viable, the hospital kept her body alive for months due to a state regulation and the fact that she didn’t leave any written directives regarding end-of-life care. Her family, who had said she did not want to have machines keep her body alive, were forced to turn to the Courts to enforce what they knew, but could not prove, were her wishes.
A health care proxy is used to nominate someone who is empowered to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated and unable to make them yourself. An advance directive is a statement of last wishes concerning how you want to be treated in a scenario, such as Marlise’s, where there is no hope of recovery. Not only does it set down your wishes in writing offering clear guidance, it removes this difficult decision from your health care proxy’s shoulders, allowing them to be secure that they are enforcing your decisions.
As the cliché goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. While a tragedy such as Marlise’s may never affect you or your loved ones, having the correct estate planning documents in place can help secure your rights and ease the burden from your loved ones in a variety of scenarios.