Living Wills: Signing Your Own Death Warrant? A Christian Lawyer’s Perspective
by Stephen Bloom
Editor’s Note: Stephen Bloom is a Christian attorney with more than 20 years experience in private practice. He is a frequent media guest, speaker, and writer on Christianity and the law, a Lecturer in Management and Business at Messiah College, and a Consultant to the United Methodist Stewardship Foundation of Central Pennsylvania. He is a legal columnist for Good News Daily, former host of the "Practical Counsel - Christian Perspective" radio program, and founder of the Estate Planning Council of Cumberland County. Bloom has been actively involved in the leadership of numerous community and ministry organizations, including his church, where he serves as a Certified Lay Speaker. He is a longtime member of the Christian Legal Society.
The signs of confusion are pervasive and troubling. My legal clients ask, “Should I carry my Living Will with me, in case I’m in an accident while traveling?” A major newspaper story laments that “too often” Living Wills aren’t available “when decisions about life support must be made.” Retirement community residents are directed to keep Living Wills taped to their refrigerators, for quick and easy access. Credible stories are told of first responders and emergency room personnel withholding care from patients with Living Wills.
What’s wrong with this picture? What does everyone seem to be missing? Isn’t this what Living Wills are all about? Well, hard as it might be to believe in the midst of a culture that seems to place less and less value on human life, no! Living Wills were never intended to prevent urgent lifesaving treatment!
The Living Will was developed to address situations of prolonged and permanent unconsciousness, not cases of sudden illness or injury. Yet a popular assumption seems to be taking hold across our society that people with Living Wills simply want to be left to die in the event of any medical crisis. As a practicing lawyer, I’ve observed signs that this deadly assumption is becoming so prevalent that anyone with a Living Will needs to consider whether they may have inadvertently signed their own death warrant.
In recent decades, the Living Will concept was promoted and recognized by law as a means for patients to decide in advance what medical treatment they wished to receive (or not receive) should they ever become permanently unconscious with no realistic hope of significant recovery. Living Wills were touted as a way to give a voice, in advance, to terminally ill patients who could no longer communicate for themselves. That idea may sound reasonable enough at first, but the emerging perception reflects a tragic misunderstanding of the original intent.
The promise was that Living Wills would help hopelessly ill (as determined through a careful, deliberate and measured evaluation process) patients avoid being kept alive indefinitely by prolonged artificial life support treatments. The reality is that Living Wills are too often being misused, in the heat of the moment, to rush patients into premature death.
For those interested in learning more about this important topic, I present an engaging discussion of the moral, spiritual, and legal issues surrounding Living Wills and end-of-life decision-making in one of the chapters of my new book, “The Believer’s Guide to Legal Issues” (Living Ink Books, 2008, ISBN 0899570313). The book, written in plain English for non-lawyers, also addresses many other commonly encountered legal issues from a practical Christian perspective. Visit my website http://www.IsThereALawyerInTheChurch.com or any major online retailer to purchase the book, or order a copy from your favorite bookstore.
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