Suppose you are in a coma, so sick or injured that there's little or no chance of regaining consciousness or of recovery.
What do you want done? Should physicians do everything possible to keep you alive? Or should they at some point halt the use of extreme medical measures to maintain life even though you are virtually a vegetable? If so, should that step include pulling out the tubes that provide the comatose with food and water?Right now, an estimated 10,000 Americans are in just such a sad condition - unconscious and with no prospects for recovery. Eventually, many more will face such tragedy. Only 5 to 10 percent of all adults have made their wishes known in advance about the critical medical decisions they some day may have no control over.
But at least many more people are now aware of their options as a result of the controversial case of Nancy Cruzan.
Cruzan, 33, died Wednesday, 12 days after a feeding tube that had kept her alive in a vegetative state for eight years was removed at her parents' request.
The Cruzan case underscores the importance of expressing your wishes regarding medical treatment in advance of a disabling illness. Two legal tools are available to do this. A durable power of attorney lets you authorize another person to make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. A living will directs physicians and family members not to give extraordinary treatment if it will only prolong dying.
Utah is among the 41 states that have adopted living will laws. Only Utah specifies that the maker of a living will may refuse nutrition and hydration by explicit direction. The Utah Medical Association and Utah Legal Services distribute packets containing both a living will and a medical power of attorney. A $1 donation is requested for each packet, $1.50 if it is mailed.
The Utah Medical Association can be contacted by telephoning 355-7477, Utah Legal Services by calling 328-8891.