The Terri Schindler-Schiavo tragedy has affected North American society forever. Most people who believe in the sanctity of human life would never have thought that a person, who was not otherwise dying, would be allowed by the courts to be dehydrated and starved to death.
Another way in which the case has affected society is the media-driven promotion of “living wills,” or power of attorney for personal care documents. People who are concerned about the care they will receive when they near the end of their lives need to protect themselves by having a power of attorney for personal care document that will protect them.
You need to understand that the media is promoting living wills in order to protect the medical care-givers and family members from people who respect the dignity of human life and who would oppose dehydration and starvation, as a similar situation to Terri Schiavo’s.
A living will and a power of attorney for personal care are similar legal documents. A living will is a document that acts by stating the medical treatment or care you wish to receive, or more commonly not receive, when you are incapable of making medical decisions for yourself. The power of attorney for personal care is a document that acts like a living will, except that it also has you name a person who will be responsible for making medical treatment or care decisions on your behalf when you are unable to make those decisions.
The power of attorney for personal care, or similar documents, are legal throughout Canada, whereas the living will tends to be legal in the United States.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition designed the Life-Protecting Power of Attorney for Personal Care to protect people in cases like the one Terri Schiavo found herself in. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has recently updated the Life-Protecting Power of Attorney for Personal Care to insure that everyone in Canada will be legally protected by this document.
Most Canadians get a power of attorney for personal care from their lawyer in conjunction with their will. Most power of attorney for personal care documents from a lawyer follow a format that suggests that all medical treatment will be removed when you experience an irreversible condition. Any wording in a power of attorney for personal care document that states medical treatment will be withdrawn, other than comfort care, will most likely result in the withholding of fluids and food, because most physicians and medical institutions interpret medical treatment to include fluids and food.
Last year, an American woman argued before a court that her husband did not want to be dehydrated to death, like Terri Schiavo, even though his living will stated that he wanted no further medical treatment when in his medical condition. She argued that her husband didn’t intend to be dehydrated to death when signing the document. The judge decided against the wife and the tubes were removed.
We need to be very careful not to sign a power of attorney for personal care document that will unintentionally result in the withdrawing of fluids and food when one is unable to make one’s own decisions. You need to understand that the medical language used in these documents has different meanings to medical caregivers than to the general public.
The updated Life-Protecting Power of Attorney for Personal Care will protect you when you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Order it from the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition for $20 plus $2 shipping andhandling by calling 1-877-439-3348.
Alex Schadenberg is the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition