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Who Decides Who Pulls the Plug?

By Jason Bottlinger on October 19, 2017

Brain hemorrhage. Stroke. Spinal injury. There are a variety of sudden impacts to the brain that could occur in mere seconds, either from an unforeseen impact like a car accident or natural causes. In many instances, the sufferer is rendered comatose, unable to communicate to medical staff and loved ones, and ultimately helpless in the decisions being made concerning his own life.

Most of us don’t want to think about such horrific events happening to us, but they can, and you should take the time to prepare accordingly.

Take the case of Gary Coleman, the beloved child actor from the hit ’80s TV show Diff’rent Strokes who died in 2010 of a brain hemorrhage. Coleman had prepared a “living will,” also referred to as “directive to physicians” or “advance directive.” Legally, this document isn’t a “will” in the sense that it holds instructions for bequeathal of an estate, but rather a document that states a person’s wishes for end-of-life care should he or she become unable to communicate. In Coleman’s living will, he requested that he be kept on life support unless he was in an irreversible coma for at least 15 days.

However, Coleman’s ex-wife had been legally designated as his healthcare agent and therefore had the ultimate authority regarding his care. She had the doctors disconnect the life support one day after Coleman fell into a coma, and he died shortly after of a brain hemorrhage.

Who has legal supremacy? Living wills vs. a healthcare power of attorney? It differs in each state. In Nebraska, the living will is legally recognized by the state. But it’s important to be specific about circumstances surrounding your possible incapacitation so that family members are clear regarding your wishes. Your power of attorney for healthcare can state whether the healthcare agent has the power to override the terms of the living will. It’s also a good idea to have both a living will and a healthcare power of attorney, and it is always a good idea to make sure the individual you designate as your healthcare agent understands the contents of your living will.

As you can see, these end-of-life situations where the patient can no longer communicate are very complicated and can be fraught with emotion, which can impair people’s judgment. Legal assistance in these matters is imperative to give one’s wishes depth, confirmation, and clarity. If you are considering a living will or a healthcare power of attorney or both, contact the team at Bottlinger Law, L.L.C. We have experience with medical directives and powers of attorney. You can call us at (402) 505-8234 for a free consultation.

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