March 22, 2005

Who Will Make Your Medical Decisions?

If there is anything of practical value to be gained from the attention being paid to the sad circumstances of Terri Schiavo, it might be the impetus for many of us to give some consideration to the question of who will make decisions on our behalf should we become incapacitated. These are conversations that most of us don't really want to have. Confronting our own mortality, or that of a loved one, is not a comfortable thing. We tend not to think of these things at all when we're young, and frankly, these conversations tend to become more uncomfortable, rather than less so, in middle age.

So where do you start? Do you have a spouse? If you don't, do you have children, a sibling or a trusted friend who could make important medical decisions with your best interests at heart? How much do you wish to be done for you? Do you want medical science to exhaust every effort, or is there a line you don't wish to cross? Who have you told about this? Did you impart this information during the course of a casual conversation, or have you written any of it down? If you don't write it down, do you trust those closest to you to have the courage of your convictions when the time comes to make a decision that might end or extend your life?

If you think you're ready to start thinking about any of this, the American Bar Association and the AARP provide a couple of starting points where you can get some of your questions answered. In most cases, it's not as difficult as you might think, and you don't even need a lawyer. What you do need is a willingness to give the end of your life some thought.

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