Beyond the Birth Plan: Tough decisions for new parents (part 2)
If you or your partner are pregnant, or plan to become pregnant, you need to talk about death. That’s right. Death. In the excitement of planning for a new life, death is often the last subject that people want to talk about. This is Part 2 of a series explaining why that avoidance is a huge mistake. (If you missed our introduction to this admittedly less than cheerful series, you can get caught up here.)
We ended Part 1 with a preview of the three legal documents that our attorneys recommend for every pregnant woman: (1) a last will and testament, (2) living will, and (3) health care proxy. I’ll touch on the first of these eventually (most people have a general understanding of a last will and testament, and the purpose it serves), but I’m going to start with the living will and the health care proxy.
In short, a living will is a written representation of a person’s intentions and wishes regarding medical treatment. This document can be as specific or as general as the person desires. Some things you might want to address in a living will? When to withdraw treatment and respiratory support. Whether to refuse or permit surgery, antibiotics, feeding tubes, or IV fluids, and in what circumstances. Whether to accept various types of pain management. Whether you want to be resuscitated, and in what circumstances. Whether to be an organ donor. Do not leave these decisions to your panic-stricken partner in a situation already loaded with crushing anxiety.
A health care proxy is just what it sounds like. It designates a person of your choice to make medical decisions for you in the event that you cannot. There are a few important considerations here. Is this person willing and able to discuss medical care and end-of-life issues? Can you trust this person to make decisions that respect your wishes and values? Can you trust this person to advocate for you if there are disagreements about your care?
Why do you need a health care proxy if you already have a living will? Predominantly because the health care proxy allows for some flexibility; the designated person can make decisions based on the specific facts at hand. A living will cannot possibly address all of the potential medical events that might arise.
These three legal documents become even more important in light of the fact that fewer families are adopting the “traditional” nuclear family model. When parents remain unmarried, these documents are essential to ensure that a partner has the legal standing to protect the pregnant mom’s wishes.
That pretty much covers Mom; but there’s more fun to come in Part 3 where we tell you why any of this is important for Baby.