Friday, November 25, 2022
Lindsey E. Wilkinson (Fox Rothschild LLP) recently published an article entitled, Honoring the Intentions of a Loved One— The Importance of Advanced Directives, ABA Probate & Property, November/December 2022. Provided below is an introduction to the article:
Trusts and estates practitioners routinely draft wills, living wills, and financial powers of attorney for their clients. My understanding of the importance of a living will was recently reinforced when I had to advise a family member to search for his wife’s advance directive. My aunt elected to consent to surgery where doctors would attempt to remove a brain tumor below her cerebellum, wrapped around the vagus nerve. The surgery had a 75 percent chance of success. On their way to the doctor, my aunt and her husband did not even consider the possibility of failure. She had her bag packed neatly for rehab and considered her future without the falls, dizziness, and other struggles that her brain tumor imposed on her.
Unfortunately, at the end of the surgery, my aunt suffered a massive blood hemorrhage and stroke, leaving her unresponsive, in a vegetative state, with a “one percent chance” of survival. When I heard the news, I called my uncle and advised him to look for her advance directive. Luckily, she had one prepared along with her will in 2016. Within a week of the operation, and after a proper Catholic unction was performed by a priest (unction is a service that forgives any and all the sins of a sick person committed during the person’s mortal life), family members and the priest gathered in the small hospital room to witness the removal of the feeding tube and breathing apparatus. She struggled to breath momentarily before releasing her last breath.
Although her last few moments were agonizing to watch, my aunt felt no pain. More importantly, her intentions were honored. She would not have wanted to remain in a vegetative state. Such a state would have been contrary to her entire life as a light-hearted, loving, caring, compassionate person. My aunt loved to laugh. She would find humor and joy wherever she went, always outgoing and a true crowd-pleaser. That is how she will be remembered.