If you are diagnosed with a terminal or irreversible condition, what kind(s) of medical procedures do you want to be administered? Do you want doctors to use artificial breathing machines or feeding tubes? What about intravenous antibiotics? Dialysis? Do you simply want your physician to keep you comfortable using drugs and let you die naturally? These questions are very hard to answer no matter your stage in life. The default presumption is that you want any and all available medical procedures administered that would prolong your life.
In order to make these decisions, let’s look at what the legislature of Texas has defined as a terminal condition and irreversible condition. According to Texas Health & Safety Code §166.001 (the “Code”), a TERMINAL CONDITION is defined as:
“[a]n incurable condition caused by injury, disease, or illness that according to reasonable medical judgment will produce death within six months, even with available life-sustaining treatment provided in accordance with the prevailing standard of care.”
The Code further defines an IRREVERSIBLE CONDITION as a:
“condition, injury, or illness (A) that may be treated but is never cured or eliminated; (B) that leaves a person unable to care for or make decisions for the person’s own self; and (C) that, without life-sustaining treatment provided in accordance with the prevailing standard of medical care, is fatal.”
Examples of terminal conditions include, but are not limited to, chronic heart failure, congestive heart failure, heart disease, renal failure, chronic respiratory failure, and hepatitis C. Each of the conditions at some point become incurable and no matter the level of care you receive, you will ultimately lose your battle with these. Examples of irreversible conditions include, but are not limited to, cancer, failure of major organs, and serious brain disease. While these illnesses may eventually become terminal, patients may be kept alive for prolonged periods of time if the patient receives life-sustaining treatments.
The natural question then is what level of care do you want to receive if you are afflicted with either (or both) of the above conditions? The only way to ensure that your wishes are carried out in the event that you cannot communicate your decisions to your physician is to have a proper Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates ( also called Advanced Directive or Living Will). This document will explain to your doctors whether they should provide all life-sustaining treatment or withhold all life-sustaining treatment. If your physician refuses to follow your wishes in withholding life-sustaining treatment, then he or she is required by law to find another treating doctor that will.
The danger that we all face is the scenario that involved Terri Schiavo in Florida. Her husband said that she wanted to die as gently as possible and receive no life-sustaining treatment while her parents argued that she did want all life-sustaining treatments to be performed. The case drug through the court system for over 15 years before it was ordered that the feeding tube be removed from Mrs. Schiavo. These years were filled with heartache, headache, lawyers, judges, courtrooms, money, time, media, etc. All of this could have been avoided had Mrs. Schiavo seen a qualified estate planning attorney to have her wishes reduced to writing.
Since we do not know what the future holds, it makes sense to have an advanced directive as part of an effective overall estate plan. You may be hit by a bus walking out of your house. A may be involved in a major automobile accident rendering you unable to communicate your wishes. The best plan you can make is to plan ahead. It is much easier for you to solve problems with paperwork in place BEFORE something happens. If you wait until after, your options are severely limited and you can rest assured that these limited options are astronomically more expensive than having the advanced directive prepared in the first place.
If you do not have an advanced directive, I urge you contact my office at your earliest convenience. Together we can discuss your options and create a plan that will reflect your wishes while ensuring that the State of Texas does not impose her wishes upon you. Call Green Law, PLLC today at (806) 548-2953. Remember the old saying “Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail”.