When the Minnesota Good Life Ends, What's a Good Death?

Minnesota's Health Care Directive, which incorporates what Minnesotans used to call a "living will", is a document that gives you some choices and control when you can't speak for yourself.

Definitions of a “good death” vary by person, but most people want some control so that they can end life as they desire. While there’s no way to control all aspects of your death, a Minnesota legal document called a Health Care Directive gives you some choices and control when you can’t speak for yourself. A Health Care Directive incorporates what Minnesotans used to call a “living will”.

Moreover, a Health Care Directive is not just for the dying. It comes into play at any time you can’t speak for yourself – even if the incapacity is temporary. Any resident of Minnesota that is at least 18 years of age and of sound mind can – and should – make a Health Care Directive.

When you write one, you select a “health care agent” to speak for you when you can’t. Your agent makes decisions regarding your care based on the wishes that you express in your Health Care Directive. Because you can’t foresee every situation that may come up, your health care agent uses his or her best judgment in following your wishes as you expressed them in your Health Care Directive.

You can name one person as your agent or you can select a committee to decide jointly. A committee is more cumbersome because the committee needs to reach consensus. By empowering one agent to act at a time, your agent does not need to obtain the agreement of anyone else. You should also name backup agents in case your first choice isn’t available at the time your emergency arises.

From a legal standpoint, you have a lot of latitude in writing your Health Care
Directive. Generally, the more detail that you provide, the better will be your guidance for your health care agent. A Health Care Directive can also acknowledge that you know that it is never easy to make life and death decisions about a loved one. You can explain that you desire that the health care agent and your family bear no feelings of guilt regarding the decisions that they make about you when such decisions are based on the wishes that you express in your Health Care Directive.

Typically, Health Care Directives are used to express your wishes regarding pain relief and life-extending mechanisms such as feeding tubes.

The Terry Schiavo case remains as a prominent example of what can happen when one doesn’t have a Health Care Directive. Schiavo suffered massive brain damage in 1990. In 1998, her husband sought the court’s permission to remove her feeding tube. Schiavo’s parents fought back, triggering a legal battle that raged for another seven years before Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed in 2005. Schiavo died several days later.

It is also important that you give your agent access to your health care records to enable your health care agent to make an informed opinion. Without such authorization, your health records will not be released to your health care agent due to privacy laws.

A Health Care Directive can also be used to cover other matters such as your desires regarding organ donation, cremation vs. burial, and the location of your desired final resting place. 

©2012, 2013 Wittenburg Law Office, PLLC. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: This Blog is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. If you have questions, please seek the advice of an attorney. If you are interested in Wittenburg Law’s representation of you, you must contact Wittenburg Law for a determination of whether your matter is one for which Wittenburg Law is willing and able to accept representation of you.

Bonnie Wittenburg, Wittenburg Law Office, PLLC, Minnetonka 952-649-9771 bonnie@bwittenburglaw.com www.bwittenburglaw.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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