By: Joan Reed Wilson, Esq.
Yesterday was the 12th annual National Healthcare Decisions Day. I was scheduled to speak on a panel hosted by VNA Community Healthcare & Hospice with other professionals to discuss the importance of Advance Healthcare Directives. That event was obviously canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but given this current healthcare crisis, people are realizing that medical directives are more important than ever. I have heard some concern from people that having an Advance Healthcare Directive means they do not want to be put on a ventilator and so they would not receive treatment for COVID-19.
The first part of the current Connecticut Advance Healthcare Directive form is known as the Living Will. People who have not updated their estate planning documents in 15-20 years may only have a document that is titled Living Will. The Living Will is your directive that if a physician or an APRN determines that you are in a coma or persistive vegetative state from which the physician or APRN determines you will not awaken, then you do not want to be kept alive on life support machines, including a ventilator. This does not mean that you will not be intubated and put on a ventilator if the medical professionals believe doing so will save your life.
A Living Will is NOT a Do Not Intubate Order.
An Advance Healthcare Directive or Living Will is different than a “DNR”. A DNR is something that you execute with your PHYSICIAN, not your lawyer, and it states that you do not want to be resuscitated (DNR = Do No Resuscitate) with CPR or intubated and put on a ventilator, no matter whether doing so could save your life or not. Generally otherwise healthy people do not execute DNR’s. They are used for people whose quality of life is such that they would not want to be revived if something led their heart to stop beating or caused them to stop breathing. A DNR can be executed by your Healthcare Representative but having a Living Will is not the same as having a DNR.
Naming your Healthcare Representative is another important part of the Advance Healthcare Directive. Your Representative is the person who has legal authority to make decisions for your medical needs when you cannot make those decisions for yourself either because you are unconscious or incapacitated. Naming someone who you trust to make health decisions for you when you cannot is critical. Without it, if you become unable to make your own decisions, your loved ones have to obtain a court order through the Probate Court, which can be time-consuming, costly and these days with court closures, social distancing orders and overworked medical professionals, sometimes impossible. Having conversations with your Representative is equally critical because it is important for that person to know when and if you would want a DNR executed and what your health and medical wishes would be in certain circumstances. Finally, it is very important to tell your named Representative that you named him or her and where you keep a copy of your document. Recently, our office received a call from a woman in Arizona whose brother was in the hospital here in Connecticut and unable to make decisions for himself. He never told her if he executed any estate planning documents. Attorney Kristen Prout was able to obtain an emergency conservatorship and a decree from the Court to authorize someone to check his safe deposit box for these important documents. Had he shared them with his sister, they may have saved a lot of time and stress.
Although this pandemic is a scary and stressful time, it is also a good reminder to think about your wishes and have conversations with your loved ones.
We wish the best in health to you!