People who become elderly, sick, disabled, and/or dependent may be at risk of being denied lifesaving treatment, nutrition, and hydration due to a perceived inadequate “quality of life”—even against the express will of patients or their families.
Attending physicians, for example, may decide that patients have passed the point of a meaningful and productive life and that medical care should be minimal. Caregivers may view them as consuming limited resources that could be dedicated to other patients with better long-term prospects. Insurance companies—including Medicare and Medicaid—may determine that they are not showing enough progress to warrant reimbursement for additional tests or therapy. Finally, even family members, for various reasons, may urge a hastened death.
The Will to Live
A measure of protection is possible with an advance directive. Advance health care directives (often called living wills) are legal documents that allow people to specify their treatment wishes in the event that they become unable to make health care decisions for themselves. Such documents express whether and under what circumstances people want life-preserving medical treatment, food, or fluids. Advance directives may also allow people to designate someone else to make medical decisions when they are unable to do so. This is called a durable power of attorney for health care.
Advance directives have often been used to deny patients care, including nutrition and hydration, but they can also help protect patients from such a death—if they are properly written. MCCL and the National Right to Life Committee offer a specifically pro-life advance directive that guards against any form of euthanasia. It directs that you be given food and water, and creates a presumption for medical treatment with the opportunity to describe exceptions (such as if you are dying and wish to allow the dying process to take its course without burdensome interventions). The Minnesota version of the pro-life “Will to Live” is available online or by contacting MCCL.
MCCL urges you to complete a Will to Live or other advance directive, and to discuss the specifics with a trustworthy person who will represent you if you are unable to do so.
Every life is valuable
Understanding that death is a part of life, MCCL does not seek to prolong the dying process. But we strongly oppose efforts to hasten death by those who base the value of life on subjective "quality of life" determinations, the cost of medical care, personal greed, or other motives that cheapen life.
Every human life is valuable—from beginning to end.