Terri Schiavo's highly publicized life and death have convinced many people of the need for advance directives.
Advance directives are documents that enable you to make decisions now about your future medical care. They include a combined Living Will and Durable Health Power of Attorney.
The Living Will — a declaration relating to life-sustaining procedures — directs your physician to withhold or withdraw certain life-sustaining procedures if you are in a terminal condition and unable to decide for yourself.
The patient receives pain and comfort measures, but medical treatment that only prolongs the dying process can be withheld.
Mason City attorney Will Keen characterizes the Living Will as a statement of philosophy.
Individuals can opt for a Living Will that includes a laundry list of procedures so the person can specify which ones they do or don't want, Keen said. The drawback is that as medical technology advances, the list may need to be updated.
A Durable Health Power of Attorney authorizes another individual to make medical decisions in the event you are medically incapacitated but death is not imminent, as in the case of Terri Schiavo. A second person should also be named as an alternate. These individuals are entrusted to make decisions according to your directions and in your best interest.
In Iowa, a Durable Health Power of Attorney can include the right to demand that nutrition and hydration be removed or not provided, Clear Lake attorney Matt Berry said.
Berry further recommends that everyone have a standby Power of Attorney for financial purposes. This will authorize another individual to handle your financial matters in the event your physician determines you are unable to do so as a result of physical or mental incapacity. This person should be someone who does a good job of handling his/her own personal finances, Berry said.
Finally, everyone should have a Last Will and Testament to provide for what will happen to your probate assets upon death. A Last Will and Testament is especially important for individuals with children to be able to name the guardian, subject to the Court's approval, who would care for their children after their death, Berry said.
Almost any attorney should be able to prepare all the advance directive documents. To locate an attorney, call the Iowa State Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service at (800) 532-1108.
"All of us need to realize that the time to obtain advance directives is not when we are confronted with a situation like Terri Schiavo's," Berry said. "Rather, it is important to have these documents prepared while we are healthy."
Copies of advance directives are available at http://www.iowa">www.iowa
bar.org. Forms are also available from your attorney, health care facility or your physician.
Fill out the forms and have them notarized or witnessed by two disinterested parties.
Give signed copies to your family, your hospital, your physician and your attorney, and carry a copy with you when you travel. "This is not something you put in your lock box," Keen said. "You need to make sure people are aware of it."
Reach Kristin Buehner at 421-0533 or firstname.lastname@example.org.