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Living Wills Don’t Kill

(No matter what healthcare reform opponents might tell you)

By W. Stephen Graves, Juris Doctor

Attorney at Law

             If you’re a fan of insurance companies, if you like paying too much for healthcare today and even more tomorrow, if you get vicarious thrills watching multi-million dollar CEOs spend your premium dollars on mansions, yachts and private jets, by all means stand up and oppose healthcare reform.  Throughout American history our abiding hope that one day we might get our own has kept vast accumulations of wealth safe from the people whose work and money generally creates those accumulations.  We’ve always tolerated great disparity in personal wealth in this country, and rumors of class warfare in America are always greatly exaggerated.  The point of this article is that there are plenty of good arguments for and against healthcare reform based simply on your fundamental beliefs about how much business the government has trying to prevent us from taking advantage of each other in the marketplace.  It only takes away from the clarity of the debate when we see one side or the other, or both, engage in outright lies and intentional mischaracterizations.  That’s cheating, and all our parents taught us that if you have to cheat to win, you don’t win.

             The particular scare tactic that rubs this lawyer wrong is the way some opponents of healthcare reform have tried to equate free living will counseling with euthanasia or “death panels.”

             Living wills, as most of us know by now, are not wills at all but advance directives to physicians, family members or surrogates that people use to specify their desires about artificial life support.   They are a tool that helps us make our own decisions about end-of-life care while we are still competent to do so.  In Texas we have had living wills or advance directives for many years. We even have a statutory form for them, enacted by a conservative Republican legislature, for making our wishes about artificial life support known in “advance,” in a “directive” to our caretakers.  Having an advance directive means that if we become so sick that we can’t communicate our wishes, no one has to guess what our wishes would be or apply government-created rules to make health care decisions, because we’ve TOLD them what we want.  Living wills thus KEEP THE GOVERNMENT OUT OF OUR BUSINESS and our end-of-life decisions — the very opposite of what the “deathers” claim they do.

             A living will most certainly does NOT simply call for “pulling the plug” when you are unlikely to recover your quality of life.  You can just as easily use it to declare that under no circumstances do you want to terminate artificial life support or heroic efforts to keep you alive. 

             When you see your family lawyer about planning your estate, you will learn of a number of useful tools for effectuating your wishes.  He or she should not be expected to stop at preparing your will, powers of attorney and guardian designation, and is very likely to broach the subject of a living will or advance directive with you.  Your lawyer would do you a disservice if he or she neglected to make you aware of your right to keep your end-of-life dignity by making your wishes known in advance.

             At Graves Law Firm we believe our clients are best served if we tell them about all available tools for controlling their own lives and estates, including ways of having their wishes respected and followed at the end of life.  So when you come to see us about making sure your estate passes the way you want it to, we feel duty bound to mention the purpose and availability of a living will.  Please don’t be afraid.  We want to keep you as a friend and client for a very long time.  We’re not trying to kill you.

             Call us at (210) 738-3230 in San Antonio or, outside area code 210, toll free 1(888) 360-6162.