Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Many Americans know Casey Kasem as the subject of a acrimonious dispute between his widow Jean and his children from his first marriage. In the wake of Mr. Kasem’s devastating dementia, Mrs. Kasem wanted to continue medical care while his three children believed care should be withdrawn. In a California court, Mr. Kasem’s children prevailed based on a document signed in 2007. Life support was withdrawn and Mr. Kasem died shortly thereafter.
One important lesson surfacing from the Kasem’s experiences is that spouses are not automatically made medical decision makers for each other. Spouses should formally designate each other as medical decision makers if they so desire. Another lesson is that even if all documents have been signed, terminating medical treatment at the end of someone’s life is a difficult and painful decision. Determining when a condition is “terminal” is not an easy feat, and is debated among medical professionals.
Through documents denoted as living wills, health care proxies, medical powers of attorney, and health care instructions, an individual while mentally competent can plan for the end of his life. Central to such planning is the designation of a medical decision maker and the specification of the criteria to be applied by such decision maker if an individual becomes unable of making medical decisions.
See Edward Zelinsky, Casey Kasem and End-of-Life Planning, OUP Blog, July 7, 2014.