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Worth of living will highlighted by MD case

What could be more difficult than to be faced with having to make the choice about ending the life of a loved one? Family law experts in New Jersey know that an advanced directive, or living will, can help avoid such a situation.

By clearly declaring your desires regarding extraordinary life support measures, in writing, you remove the burden of such decisions from those you love. It can also prevent massive discord that can tear a family apart if there is a difference of opinion about what steps to take. They key is in the documentation.

It doesn't exist in a case currently playing out in Maryland, and it's led to a court battle between a 55-year-old man's wife and the man's mother and brother. According to news reports, the man suffered severe brain damage after a heart attack in July. A feeding tube keeps him alive now.

His wife is seeking to allow doctors to remove the tube, saying that her husband has said in the past that he wouldn't want to live in such a state. But because those wishes were never put in writing, the man's mother and brother have gone to court to maintain the life support. They also seek to be granted custody of the man. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for later this week.

It's the type of battle from which a family may never recover according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. To avoid such rifts, the group advises:

•· Completing a living will

•· Assigning a specific person to serve as medical power of attorney

Further, the group says, the family should have an open discussion about what each member's desires might be, even if it's a bit difficult. They suggest that as families get together for the holidays, it may be an ideal time for such conversations.

Source: Fredrick News-Post, "Expert: Case shows value of living wills," Brian Englar, Oct. 30, 2011

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