No one wants to think about being gravely injured in an accident, or having a terminal illness. If you have definitive thoughts about being kept alive–or not–on artificial life support, then you should plan for what you want done or not done should you become in a “terminal condition” or “permanently unconscious state” using a living will and a healthcare power of attorney.
Karen Ann Quinlan and Terri Schiavo were both women who fell into comas after differing medical events. Both were put on artificial life support and received nutrition (feeding tube) and hydration. Despite efforts from family members to remove artificial life support, both women lived for 10 years in a persistent vegetative state. As with many people, neither woman put any end-of-life wishes in writing.
The stories of Quinlan and Schiavo scare people who fear living for years in a coma, kept alive by machines. To make it known that you would not want to be kept alive artificially, you need to prepare a living will, which memorializes your end-of-life decisions in writing. A healthcare power of attorney accompanies a living will, and provides for you to name an agent for making healthcare decisions for you. This “agent” can make medical decisions if you are unable to make them yourself, but cannot override your end-of-life wishes in your living will.
A living will document makes your end-of-life healthcare wishes known. A healthcare power of attorney names an agent (you choose) to enforce your living will and make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to do so. These documents should be a part of your estate plan, and should be freely to distributed to the people you name, doctors, and hospitals.