Some legal issues can arise out of end-of-life decisions although the US government has provided for individuals to legally make their own decisions since 1990 with the limitation of assisted suicide, says Ashley Crispin Ackal of O’Connell Crispin Ackal.
The Supreme Court issued a number of legal decisions in the 1990s on various aspects of a person’s right to die. In a 1900 decision, the Court determined that a competent patient had the right to refuse a feeding tube or other assisted nutritional means. In 1997, the Court held that assisted suicide was illegal, but allowed that each state should determine its legality. The following year, Dr. Jack Kevorkian assisted in the first of 130 suicides of terminally ill patients and set off a firestorm of legal precedents and state legislative decisions, explains O’Connell Crispin Ackal’s Ashley Crispin Ackal of West Palm Beach.
Those determinations differed from those laid out in a living will, a document created while healthy and mentally competent that lays out in legal terms at what point of a potential illness or injury a person wishes to refuse or cease life support, refuse assisted feeding, etc. Any competent adult can legally pre-determine how they want their end-of-life decisions handled by creating a living will. The typical minimum competency requirements include 18 years of age or older, capable of understanding what the living will achieve, what it contains, and how it functions. The individual can sign the living will in the presence of a notary public or witness.
The key difference between the patient actions that took place in the 1990s and those of 2020 and beyond lie in the premeditation of the decision while completely competent and healthy, said O’Connell Crispin Ackal’s Ashley Crispin Ackal of West Palm Beach. A living will written today allows the individual to decide their fate based upon a number of scenarios and to determine criteria of life and quality of life.
The Supreme Court decisions of the 1990s revolved around individuals with incurable diseases such as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a wasting disorder that eradicates the body’s muscle tone as well as affecting the brain, eventually trapping the individual in immobility without the ability to speak or breath on their own. These individuals determined to end their life before reaching the end stages of the disease, a decision which to this day differs in legality from deciding to refuse life support.
While a living will can help an individual determine what measures they would not want to undergo to prolong life, it cannot legally function as an instrument to end their life by assisted suicide, Ashley Crispin Ackal of O’Connell Crispin Ackal said. The living will can include criteria to allow or negate resuscitation, known in different areas as a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR), Do Not Intubate (DNI), Do Not Attempt to Resuscitate (DNAR), or Allow Natural Death (AND).
These documents can also name one or more decision-makers for the individual. The duty of this person or person would be making decisions not covered in the living will. This may include experimental treatments, technologies developed after the living will was established, and/or decisions not covered in the living will, according to Ashley Crispin Ackal of O’Connell Crispin Ackal. This person or persons would decide, for example, whether to allow doctors to try a new treatment on a cancer patient toward the end of Stage IV.
Contact the attorneys at O’Connell & Crispin Ackal PLLC to address your living will needs and discuss potential end-of-life decisions. Let O’Connell Crispin Ackal’s Ashley Crispin Ackal of West Palm Beach help you make an informed decision about your future.