Health is something that young people often take for granted. Usually it is only as we get older that we become concerned with our health and the costs associated with additional care. Some of us take steps to make sure that we have the proper health insurance and savings to pay for our health costs. But what happens if your health takes a turn for the worst and you cannot even express what type of care that you want? A possible solution to this problem is an advance directive. Even that National Institute of Health advises community members across the country that it is wise to use these legal tools. They note how you can have advance directives with a durable power of attorney, “a document that names your health care proxy. Your proxy is someone you trust to make health decisions if you are unable to do so.”
Feeding Tube Decisions
Since medical decisions are a matter of preference, there can be relief in knowing that your preferences have been chosen before a tragedy occurs. An example of a medical decision that should be made beforehand is whether or not you will want a feeding tube. A feeding tube is often used for patients who have irreversible dementia and have forgotten how to eat. This tube can also be used for patients with “a critical illness, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or recovering from stroke, cancer or anorexia.”
As a recent story in the Contra Costa Times discusses, used in a significant number of nursing homes in the United States, this device protects patients from starving to death. The device and the procedure is simple and expensive but beneficial for nursing homes. Some reports indicate that “Medicare pays doctors $225 to $1,047 to place the tube and pays hospitals $591 to $3,361.” With the rising costs in Medicare, experts are taking a closer look as to how treatments such as feeding tubes can actually benefit the elderly.
Deciding to provide a feeding tube to a loved one seemed like a simple decision for immediate family members, especially if it meant that a person could live longer and spend more time with the family. The benefit of this nutrition, however, does not come without risks. Now, many family members are choosing not to give feeding tubes to their loved ones since “emerging research shows that artificial feeding prolongs, complicates and isolates dying.” Some medical experts now believe that the use of a feeding tube on patients can be a mistake because these tubes do not significantly increase someone’s lifespan but may prolong suffering.
For example, Bill Fisher, the head of the Northern California chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, has witnessed this change of people’s feelings about tube feeding throughout time. Fisher’s grandmother was automatically given the tube forty years ago when she had Alzheimer’s disease. Now, his mother-in-law has also been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and the family has already decided that the feeding tube should not be used.
Making such a decision regarding the life of a loved one can be difficult, especially if it means stopping their food supply to avoid other suffering. Crucial choices such as these can cause disputes within the family and may ultimately lead to a decision that you may not desire. Therefore, it is important for you to consider such choices beforehand. You should consult with an attorney to understand more about advance directives and how they can ease the burden of your loved ones and put your mind at ease. In the San Diego area, the Law Office of Scott Soady is available to help with a range of estate planning and elder law issues.