Sunday, June 20, 2004
Living wills under fire.
The new rap:
Recently, two University of Michigan researchers, writing in the bimonthly Hastings Center Report, a journal that examines issues in medical ethics, concluded that living wills are useless.Sound familiar?
"It's very hard for people to predict their preferences for an unknown health condition," said Angela Fagerlin, a research scientist and co-author of the article. In addition, "decision makers have a difficult time interpreting [living wills]," Fagerlin said.
And Carl Schneider, a law professor and Fagerlin's co-author, says: "In lots of ways, the unsolvable problem is that writing down your intentions clearly is a lot harder than people think it is."
Fact is, living wills were never the end-all and be-all of end-of-life decision making, but the weaknesses of the document can be overdrawn. They help the executor and her family get into a discussion mode that will help end-of-life decision making when the time comes. They can, therefore, help surrogate decision makers -- including those holding a medical power of attorney -- take on the emotion and psychological burden of decision making.
Would we be in a world of hurt if living wills were eliminated? No. Can their utility be over-estimated? Sure. But do they serve a potentially valuable function? I think so.