I told my daughter to pull the plug when I can no longer beat my great-grandchildren in Rummy. Martha Stewart told her daughter to pull the plug when she could no longer roll out a pie crust. My office manager told her daughter to never pull the plug. While “pulling the plug” is something we often joke about, many families face that decision every day for their loved ones. A few years ago, I attended an estate planning and elder law seminar n Chicago sponsored by WeathCounsel and ElderCounsel, two national attorney associations for estate planning and elder law attorneys. I had the good fortune of attending a lecture at that seminar by Bill Colby, a national right-to-die expert. Mr. Colby has written two books on the subject, “The Long Goodbye: The Deaths of Nancy Cruzan” and more recently, “Unplugged: Reclaiming Our Right to Die in America.” Although I have not read the book about Nancy Cruzan, I would recommend “Unplugged” whole-heartedly.
“Unplugged” follows the development of the right to die law in America and the adoption of advance directives in states that allow for a person to express his or her wishes with regard to end of life decisions. In Louisiana, these documents include living wills which tell your health care providers not to provide artificial life support if they have determined you are being kept alive artificially and there is no reasonable chance that you will recover and health care powers of attorney which give authority to your health care agent to make end of life decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself. But, as expressed in his book, Mr. Colby says these documents alone are not enough. You need to have discussions with your family and your loved ones so they will know what your wishes are if you are ill and are not going to recover. As Mr. Colby states, “We’re afraid to talk about the one natural occurrence that happens to us all. Even if you’ve talked to your family a lot about it, the decision making is profoundly hard, and its almost to much of a burden for someone to make a decision without written guidance.”
If you are interested in reading Mr. Colby’s book, you can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Unplugged-Reclaiming-Our-Right-America/dp/0814408826. But, regardless of whether you read the book or not, do your loved ones and family a favor by visiting an estate planning or elder law attorney and executing a living will, health care power of attorney and other advance medical directives that will ease your loved ones burdens if they ever have to make an end of life decision for you. Don’t just execute the documents though; tell your family when you want them to pull the plug.