First responders may seem cold-hearted about DNRs and patient family members who are unprepared for the hard decisions that EMTs deal with every day.
Part of being a first responder is helping people and their families during a crisis, when a serious injury or illness or death results in a call to 911. But members of the first responder community are just as likely not to have a living will as the patients they see.
EMS1.com recently posted a story, “Why EMS providers need living wills.” It explains that a living will—contrary to most other estate planning documents—has no authority after the creator of the document passes away. A living will or advance directive provides instructions about your end-of-life care. It can include as much or as little direction as you want, such as the use of pain-relieving treatments, do not resuscitate (DNR) orders, life support and organ donation.
A living will helps your family members carry out your wishes. However, it often doesn’t cover everything. For instance, if you don’t specify whether you’d want certain life-saving treatments, like emergency surgery in the living will, you should have a trusted agent to act in your best interests and help you to carry out your wishes.
First responders need both a health care power of attorney and a living will. Due to the high risk of serious injury that comes with a first responders’ duties, it is even more imperative to have this advanced planning in place. In many states, the health care power of attorney is part of the living will. The agent or the “health care proxy” has the authority to act on behalf of the incapacitated first responder, if the first responder is incapable of making decisions on his or her own.
But why do I need a living will?
Be in control of your end-of-life decisions. Without a living will, the decisions to carry out your last wishes could be made by the court. In this situation, state law takes effect and dictates who will have a say in your well-being. A living will lets you control how decisions are made and who will make them.
Protect your life partner. Without a living will, the law will place the health care power of attorney in the hands of your spouse, and then your family. If you have a long-time partner, but are unmarried, your partner would have no say in any end-of-life decisions.
Select one of your children to assist. With a health care power of attorney, you eliminate confusion as to which of your children will make the decisions to enforce your living will and decisions on end-of-life care.
Peace of mind. A living will gives you and your loved ones comfort and peace of mind. This is a stressful time, and a living will helps smooth out the logistics and questions that will arise.
Organ donation. You can state your instructions for organ donations in a living will.
When there is no living will, or if the living will is not on site and with the patient, decisions for a loved one who is near death become even more challenging. Without it, first responders must act following the law, which usually means resuscitating the patient, whether the patient wants this or not. With a living will, family members and first responders will know what you want and will be able to comply with your wishes. This prevents a great deal of confusion and heartache for all.
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