If your doctors determine that you are in an irreversible coma or persistent vegetative state, and if you don’t want to be kept alive with medical heroics such as life support, you should sign a living will. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a living will is clear and convincing evidence of an individual’s intent to withhold consent for heroic medical treatment, including life support machines. Without a living will, your loved ones will have to make the decision regarding life support. That may lead to a family battle and you not getting what you want.
The two most well known life support/right to die cases are those of Nancy Cruzan and Terri Schiavo. After being injured in a car accident, Nancy Cruzan was kept alive with artificial hydration and nutrition for nearly eight years.
After the first four years and the realization that Nancy was never going to get better, her parents and husband wanted to have the life support removed, but the state of Missouri disagreed. The case went on for years, and made it all the way to the Supreme Court.
The Court ruled that a living will is clear and convincing evidence of the desire to not be kept alive with life support machines if an individual is in a persistent vegetative state. Nancy didn’t have a living will, therefore, the state, at that time, was permitted to keep her on life support since there was no clear and convincing evidence presented.
After the Court’s ruling, Nancy’s parents and husband submitted additional evidence which finally constituted “clear and convincing” evidence of her desire, and she was removed from life support. She died 19 days later – 8 years after her car accident.
If you don’t have an up-to-date living will, consult with a qualified estate planning attorney so that you never share the same fate as Nancy Cruzan. Please read part 2 of this article, wherein we discuss Terri Schiavo’s life support/right to die case.