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Life Support Decisions

Terri Shiavo is back in the news. Terri died in 2005, nearly two weeks after doctors removed the feeding tube that had sustained her for more than a decade. She was severely brain damaged and became a national focal point… 

in the right-to-die battle. Her family founded the Terri Shiavo Life & Hope Network, dedicated to support for the medically-dependent persons with disabilities who are facing life-threatening situations.Last month, the Terri Shiavo Network brought a lawsuit in Oakland, California, to prevent the Children’s Hospital in Oakland from disconnecting life support for 13 year old Jahi McMath. Doctors at Children’s Hospital say that Jahi suffered profuse bleeding after routine throat surgery, which lead to cardiac arrest. Days later, she was declared brain dead. Her doctors say there is no chance that she will ever come back to life. In the suit filed by the Network, the judge sided with the hospital and ordered that the hospital could disconnect life support on Monday, December 30th. He later postponed that deadline. The latest development (January 4th) is that she has been transferred to an undisclosed facility where she is being provided with life support, including nutrition and hydration.You may recall that in Terri Shiavo’s case, she was determined to be in a “persistent vegetative state” after a full cardiac arrest. She remained in that state for eight years, until her husband decided to remove life support and nutrition/hydration. Shiavo’s mother and father objected. That led to several court hearings, a special law by the Florida legislature, a challenge to that law in Florida district court, and then an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. That was appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court, which refused to get involved. Then the U.S. Congress convened an emergency session to pass another special law, and the President flew back from his Texas ranch to sign that bill. Then a federal district court judge ruled that Shiavo’s life support should be removed, and that was appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court, which declined to accept the case. Shiavo’s life support was removed in 2005, and she died.Many people had strong reactions to Terri Shiavo’s ordeal, and the case of Jahi McMath currently pending in California is also drawing national attention. In both cases, family members disagree on the appropriate course of action, and the courts are called upon to settle the question. (In Shiavo’s case, both the Florida legislature and the U.S. Congress also got involved.) If, heaven forbid, you are in an end-of-life situation, do you want a judge or a politician making that decision for you? Or do you want it made by a family member of a friend who knows what you would want to do?Michigan law allows you to appoint a person to make such a decision for you if you are unable to speak for yourself. It also allows that person to consent or decline any other treatment or procedure that is suggested, and to have access to your medical records in order to make an informed decision. You can appoint such a person by signing a Patient Advocate Designation (PAD). If you are injured or ill and unable to speak for yourself, your Patient Advocate would have that authority. This includes not only end-of-life situations, but any medical procedure or treatment that you might need.We at Creighton McLean & Shea PLC strongly recommend that every person over 18 should sign a Patient Advocate Designation. Remember, when your child turns 18, you no longer have the automatic authority to make such decisions for him or her, or even to have access to medical information without his or her consent. Call us to ask about a PAD for every adult in your family.