The name Terri Schiavo is synonymous with what can go wrong if you do not have an advance healthcare directive. Terri was a young woman from Florida who became incapacitated to the point that she could not speak or feed herself. Her husband took the position that the plug should be pulled on Terri's life, while her parents claimed that although she was severely incapacitated, Terri's mind was still functional, and it would be inhuman to pull the plug on her.
In this case, "pulling the plug" meant removing the feeding tube that kept Terri alive. When the family could not agree on a course of action, they took their dispute to court.
The case went through the Florida courts, up to the U.S. Supreme Court, and back down to the Florida courts. Congress even got in on the action. Ultimately, Terri's husband had the power to decide. The feeding tube was removed, and Terri died in a matter of days.
Was that what Terri wanted? We will never know. What we do know is that Terri Schiavo would not have become a household name if she had signed an advance healthcare directive.
If you are able to communicate with your doctors, then you are in charge of your medical decisions. But if you are not able, with an advance healthcare directive, your handpicked healthcare agent has authority to make medical decisions for you. You can appoint your spouse, your child, your best friend, your life partner or whoever you wish.
If you are incapacitated and hospitalized in Hawai'i, but don't have an advance directive in place, you might think that your spouse or adult children would be first in line to make medical decisions on your behalf. Not so. The state law requires a meeting of "interested parties" to arrive at a consensus regarding who should be your surrogate decision-maker. Who are the interested parties? It depends on your circumstances. It could include your spouse, your parents, your siblings, your caregivers and the list goes on. If there is strife in your family, it is impossible to say who would be in the room when some very important decisions are made for you.
An advance healthcare directive is a simple way to avoid this mess. It will also afford you the opportunity to state your specific wishes regarding your healthcare. So talk with your loved ones-and your estate planning professionals.
Scott A. Makuakane and Roya J. Deyhim are estate planning attorneys with the law firm of Est8Planning Counsel LLLC. Contact Est8Planning Counsel LLLC at 891-8881 or www.est8planning.com.