How Advance Medical Directives Can Protect Your Decisions
A recent piece in The Baltimore Sun highlights the importance of creating an advance medical directive – even at a young age.
Not only can an advance medical directive provide direction for family members and loved ones during a crisis situation, but it also can help ensure your wishes are respected and actually carried out.
In the article, Dan Morhaim, a faculty member at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, recounts the experience of a good friend whose son became brain dead after an accident:
Nathan was riding his bicycle near campus when a turning motorist hit him and trapped him under her car. A helmet protected Nathan’s head, but his lungs collapsed, depriving him of oxygen for 15-20 minutes. Despite the best of care, Nathan was left unable to move his body, react to sound, or have any awareness. His neurological exams showed only the most primitive brain stem functions. Until he died six months later, Nathan existed in a persistent vegetative state.
Like most 20-year-olds, Nathan did not have an advance directive, but the law designated his parents to be his healthcare surrogates, able to make medical decisions in his best interest.
Acting with Nathan’s best interests at heart, his family decided to donate his organs, believing that Nathan “would have wanted something positive to emerge from his tragic situation.” Morhaim points out that nonvital organ donations “are more successful when taken from a living donor. In fact, people make this voluntary gift every day.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be. Morhaim writes:
But because Nathan had left no specific advance directive, the transplant and ethics committees at both the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins hospitals declined Nathan’s family’s offer. Although his parents had the authority to refuse life-sustaining treatment, they were deemed unable to authorize organ donation because the committees could not certify that organ donation surgery — even though a low-risk procedure — was in Nathan’s “best interest.”
Morhaim then states things as plainly as possible: “Without specific patient direction, there is no way to be certain what an individual would want.”
That speaks directly to a big part of our mission at MyDirectives. We want to make it as easy and painless as possible for you and your family to state your preferences for end-of-life care. There shouldn’t be any guessing, and there certainly shouldn’t be anything to prevent your decisions from getting carried out, as happened in Nathan’s case.