Fort Collins, CO
Many do not want to live after they have lost the mental and physical ability to care for themselves and to enjoy living. How can we have our lives terminated at the proper time in a graceful manner (ie. without suicide)? There are a couple of things that can be done.
First, we can resist the temptation of medical technology to prolong life too long. As our bodies become very old and frail we will likely have a serious medical problem. The question then is how hard do we fight to keep on living when that problem or its treatment may likely be the beginning of other maladies soon to follow such as strokes, dementia, etc. At this juncture if may be the wiser decision to not fight the current problem, but allow it to take our life. Certainly we would want treatment to alleviate pain, but nothing more. To avail ourselves of this option, we need to keep aware of our condition. We need to realize our age and our strength. If our vigor is all but gone. We then need to have level headed medical advice about our life threatening problem. But more importantly we need expert advice about the prognosis for the next several years. Is it likely that if we survive the current life threatening issue will we be subject to an onslaught of other problems that will erode all our strength and mental acuity? If so, then the decision to not fight but allow nature to take its course, may be the best choice. If on the other hand, it is clear to our physicians that the current life threatening problem can be swiftly cured and that for the foreseeable future there should not be anything else that would decrease our quality of life, we may want to give technology another chance. We just need to remember that often it is better to allow nature to take its course rather than to let technology prolong our misery.
Secondly, we can create legal documents that will allow our lives to end without heroic measures being employed to prolong them. These documents include a living will and a medical power of attorney. The living will is a document that expresses a philosophy that if the person executing the document is: 1. unable to communicate, 2. is suffering from a life threatening condition, and 3. there is no likely cure; then no heroic measures would be employed to prolong life. Living wills have been widely accepted and enforced in the United States since a series of legal disputes between family members regarding the decision to terminate life. Judges and legal analysts agreed that the person's wishes should be honored in such a situation. That is exactly what a living will is...a statement of your wishes, so if you were ever the subject of a dispute as to whether or not your life should be terminated, your wishes would be known.
The other legal document usually considered is a medical power of attorney. The most important consideration in preparing a medical power of attorney is determining whether or not you absolutely trust the person you appoint as your agent to make medical decisions on your behalf. If you do not trust that person completely, then you should not appoint them as your attorney in fact to make medical decisions on your behalf. So, if you have one or more people who understand your wishes as to when you want your life to end, AND you absolutely trust them to honor those wishes, then appointing them as your attorney in fact to make medical decisions may be an excellent way to see that your life ends in a natural manner and that medical technology does not make your last years, years of misery.