Who will speak for you? Today, we have simple forms to name the person we wish to make healthcare decisions for us when we cannot speak for ourselves. It wasn’t always that way.
In 1975, Karen Ann Quinlan was 21 when she unexpectedly lapsed into a coma. Her parents requested she be taken off a respirator and be allowed to die naturally ''with grace and dignity,'' because there was no hope she would recover. Doctors refused. Her parents sued and eventually her father won the right to decide his daughter’s care. After ten years, nonresponsive in a coma, Karen Ann died in 1985.
In 1990, 26-year-old Terri Schiavo fell into a persistent vegetative state after suffering cardiac arrest. Terri’s husband and her parents fought over who had the authority to remove a feeding tube that was keeping Terri’s body going. After involving state and federal courts and a final ruling by the US Supreme Court, her husband was given the right to decide and requested the removal of Terri's feeding tube. Terri had been kept ‘alive’ artificially for 15 years.
Who will speak for you? If you are 18 years old and older, complete your state's form and name someone to speak for you. You can avoid what Terri and Karen Ann and their families went through. You can take control now, while you can choose for yourself. Like Nike says, ‘Just do it’. You and the important people in your life can have peace of mind knowing this part of your medical decision-making is in place—just in case.
In Massachusetts where I live, the Health Care Proxy form is used to name your decisionmaker. Forms for all states are found at https://www.nhpco.org/advancedirective/.