Where There’s No (Living) Will, There’s No Way

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.

H/T Agnosicat.
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14 thoughts on “Where There’s No (Living) Will, There’s No Way

  1. Thank you. I feel very strongly about this and my wife and I both have living wills.

    Back when I was in college, my sister joined the National Park Service. Its tough to get in, so she took an office automation (secretarial) position in Washington, D.C. in order to get civil service status. A few days before the 4th of July, she was selected for a generalist Park Ranger (both law enforcement and interpretation) position up at Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in Alaska. To celebrate, she flew out to Grand Canyon (where we lived as kids and she worked for a while as a seasonal Park Ranger).

    She was killed that night. The jeep in which she was riding rolled. The driver (my best friend from my days at the canyon) was driving. All in the jeep were drunk.

    Amy was thrown from the jeep and landed, head first, on a rock. She was brain dead instantly. Her body survived the trip to Flagstaff, but there was nothing to be done. She was on life support until my parents flew out there.

    Amy had no living will. She had expressed to me, my sister, and both parents that she did not want to be kept alive on a respirator if there was little or no chance of regaining consciousness. My parents asked that she be removed from the respirator, but only after her organs had been harvested. Her heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, just about everything but her brain was in perfect condition.

    Her ashes are buried at the Grand Canyon cemtary.

    Back home, though, a kid who claimed to be her fiance (none of us knew anything about this relationship) loudly called my parents murderers during a memorial service. He also claimed that we should be happy for her, as a week before she had been ‘born again.’ He was escorted out rather forcefully by the man who had been her boyfriend/fiance since 10th grade. It was not pleasant at any level.

    Luckily, there was no doubt at the hospital about Amy’s wishes. It did not tear the family apart. It could have been far worse.

    The Inquisitor has imparted wise and sage advice on this subject.

    Thank you.

  2. My wife and I have yet to make wills, SI, but now you’ve made me feel very nervous. We’ll take care of it as soon as I can convince her to do so.

    In the meantime, I’m going to publicly state here to all my friends in the Atheosphere that I want EVERY extreme measure taken to keep me alive if it’s at all possible that I’ll ever be able to make wisecracks again — even if that just means blinking “no” sarcastically when I mean “yes.” Otherwise, pull every plug.

  3. Yeah, I’ve got to get around to that.

    Who I am resides in a modestly sized head under a thinning supply of red hair. If that dies, I’m dead. Period. The rest is a husk, regardless of whether it’s alive or not.

  4. Part of my practice involved guardianship, and I CANNOT overstress the importance of living wills, health care proxies, and powers of attorney. HEED SI’S ADVICE AND EXECUTE ADVANCED DIRECTIVES!

    Execute… poor choice of words, but you get the idea.

  5. OK. At the risk of derailing my own post…

    Does anyone here have a problem with the term Persistent Vegetative State“? Why not Persistent Rocklike State? Vegetables have feelings too, don’t they?

    The other (odd) thought I had this morning, is that the same term could be applied to the brains of people like Pat Robertson, or Wiley Drake, or the Einsteins from Atheism Sucks! It seems to me that when you purposely turn your brains off in order to fully appreciate the power of blind faith, the term Persistent Vegetative State accurately describes the phenomenon. The only difference between the term as applied to poor Lauren Richardson in the post and these people, is that for the latter it is reversible.

  6. I have no problem with the term ‘persistent vegetative state.’ Members of the plant kingdom have no central nervous system, have no nervous system, and cannot (with a few minor exceptions such as modified turgidity to turn towards the sun (in a purely autotropic response) or the two position rigidity of a Venus Fly Trap (the ‘jaws’ are stable in two positions (like clicking a piece of plastic between two stable shapes (which annoyed the heck out of my other sister when we were younger)))) consciously create movement. To me, the term refers to a situation in which a human being (or any animal) has been reduced to a ‘plant-like state’ through permanent injury or incapacitation of part or all of the central nervous system (obviously, this does not include injuries to the spinal column resulting in paralysis) precluding thought (or that ephemeral term consciousness (although the term ‘self aware’ may be a more accurate substitute)). If the brain (or a significan part thereof which prevents thought or movement) is injured to the point where thought (and thus conscious movement) are no longer possible, the person is in a ‘persistent vegitative state.’

    In short, no.

  7. Sorry. Reread your question and I think I answered the wrong one (or at least the one my mind said you were asking).

    I think the term is appropriate because, like a vegetable, the body is alive but there is no thought, just like a vegetable.

    And the eye-dee-ten-tee’s who you mention are not vegetables. They are toxic waste — not thinking, not usefull, but still dangerous.

  8. My living will died. I need to resuscitate it with a paperotomy.

    Good advice, Spanqi. It’s tough being in a persistent vegetative state (I had North Dakota in mind) after being in a persistent animal state for decades.

    Imagine being trapped inside your skull with some awareness but no way to communicate it. Classic work – Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo. Not vegetative, mind fully intact, no legs, no arms, no face. PVS is an opposite.

    Not being coherent here. Never mind. I’m in the wrong state, apparently.

  9. Goddamn it, SI. Can you just stick to fairy tales? You’re making me feel guilty for continually putting off both wills. Hey, I have a solution! You’re a lawyer. Write my will.

  10. No problem, Evo. To make it easy on you, just sign a blank sheet of paper and send it to me, and I’ll fill it in for you.

    Oh, and don’t forget to send all the bank account numbers too.

  11. I just got out of the hospital yesterday, so it was interesting to see this blog. Yes, I have a living will, and my lengthened stay was the result of an “unforseen” complication.

    My problem was that I wanted to see my wife because we had some things to talk about and it looked kind of bad, but it wasn’t considered seemly. They did, however, summon a clergy person to give me compfort. This person had a decidedly practical bent (surprise for me) and she made sure my wife was at my side for as long as possible. Should be something in such a document to ensure that, anyway.

    Yes, and get the OTHER kind of will done, too. SI, my wife and I got ours updated last summer, and I brought in a container of cottage cheese. While paying, I presented this to the secretary and told her I’d heard this was customary. My lawyer, who was standing there said he didn’t understand, but I told him I’d heard, “Where there’s a will there’s a whey” and I was presenting him with some. Curds added as a bomus for his good work. He instructed his paralegal to start hitting the books to find out if there was some way to make that little jape actionable. She told me later that he DID eat the cottage cheese with his lunch, though. Wife started speaking to me again about three days later.

    This is the same lawyer (we are in a band together) I was with at a dinner. I told him I’d thought he’d be eating the lawyer’s favorite meal instead of spaghetti. He said what, I said TORTalini. He was not amused.

  12. Thanks, SI, it appears I shall be troubling the world for yet a while.

    I got one of the doctors, too. They started some reconstruction of reconstructive surgery on my face and while I was in the room after recovery I started the bleeding thing again, and my wife said this was the worst ever.

    One of the doctors, a very sober-sided young man (kid reeeaally needs to grow himself a sense of proportion and humor) told me they were going to go in and remove my spleen as this was about all they could really think to do.

    I asked if they would put it in some kind of container with a removeable top so I could keep it. He gave me some jargon as to why not and asked me why I’d want such a thing done, even, it was outrageous. I told him, Hey, cut me some slack, it was an election year and if I felt in need of venting it, an appropriate container would come in handy.

    He told me this was NOT the time for jokes. I told him I couldn’t think of a better time.

    I could tell by his expression that he didn’t agree. In the end, they were afraid to do anything, they did nothing, and I came out all right.

    As we used to say in ‘Nam, “Screw ’em if they can’t take a joke”.

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