When it comes to thinking about end-of-life decisions, we often think about that issue as it pertains to the elderly. Maybe it’s the false sense of invincibility we believe to posses – the ‘it can’t happen to me’ mentality. Or, maybe it’s the belief in the natural order of things – the elderly pass first. But what about when end-of-life decisions have to be made for a thirty-something woman? Or a 13-year old child? If you have been following the news lately, then you know that I am referring to the 33-year old pregnant woman in Texas and the 13-year old girl in California.
Both cases deal with situations that are extremely difficult, painful, and probably unimaginable for most of us. However, both are important in understanding how the law deals with situations like these. On the one hand, you have the Texas case where a pregnant woman whose wishes of not wanting to be on life support are not being honored because of a strict anti-abortion law that does not allow for the termination of life support for pregnant women; and on the other hand, the California situation where both medically and legally a person with no brain activity has been declared as dead, and a death certificate has even been issued, but the family managed to obtain a restraining order, keeping their child on life support long enough to transfer her to a private facility where she continues to be on life support.
The law seems to be at odds with reality and often it is. Most of us remember the seminal Terri Schiavo case back in the 90’s/early 2000’s where Schiavo, a woman without any a living will ended up the object of a 15-year legal battle. These types of situations are very sensitive and very difficult. There are of course some situations where your wishes may not be honored, however, in California a lot of weight is given to the living will (advance health care directive), which is why it is crucial to express your wishes, not only on paper, but to your loved ones. Avoid the long drawn-out court battle if you can, and make your wishes known now. Take control before it is too late.