You thought this would be another anti-religious diatribe about free will, didn’t you? Sorry to disappoint you. As a lawyer, I feel this one is important.
Shades of Schiavo! Remember her? In Delaware, a case that presents deja vu overtones is in the beginning process of working its way through the courts. It seems that Lauren Marie Richardson took a heroin overdose back in August of 2006, but survived. Or at least her body did. Her brain was irreversibly damaged, leaving her in a persistent vegetative state, according to her doctors. Her parents, who have been divorced since she was young, are in disagreement about her future. They went to court to obtain Guardianship rights, which would include the right to make decisions about her medical care. Even though Lauren didn’t have a Living Will, she had told her mother, and others, that she would not want to be dependent on artificial life support if she was ever in the same state that Terry Schiavo was in. Dad says he never heard such sentiments from his daughter, and he wants to be her Guardian, so he can take care of her. The court appointed mom as her guardian, and since mom feels she should have her feeding tube removed, it will probably happen, once the appeals are over.
Complicating the case is the fact that she was pregnant when she took the accidental overdose, and was kept alive in order to deliver a healthy baby, which she did. Now that the baby is here, it is only a feeding tube that keeps her alive. Did I mention how similar this is to the Terry Schiavo case? Lets look at the similarities:
- Brain damage resulting in a persistent vegetative state
- Dependant on a feeding tube only.
- Family members at odds.
- No Living Will or other written directive
- Church groups get involved to assert her “rights”
- Video made that indicates she is responsive
- Her wishes dependent on the testimony of family members
- All parties profess to love her and want to do what’s best for her
- The case will potentially spend years in appeals
One thing is obvious. It is a sad situation, not just because Lauren is brain-damaged, but because it is pitting family member against family member. I am not going to pontificate on the merits of either position. The court system in Delaware is perfectly adequate for that job.
What I am going to do is make a pitch to everyone reading this to look inward and make a decision about what you would want to have done if you are ever in this position, with family members agonizing over your wishes and desires. Once you’ve made a decision, put it in writing. You probably don’t need to hire a lawyer to do so. In Pennsylvania, the form can be downloaded from the internet. Here’s another. (I can’t practice law in any other state, so I suggest you check the laws in yours to see if the Pennsylvania form will work for you, before you rely on it.)
While you’re at it, think about a regular will also.