Major End-of-Life Issues: Health Care Legal Planning

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  • 0:05 End of Life
  • 0:50 Proxy & Living Will
  • 3:07 Organ Donation
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

As people approach the end of their lives, decisions have to be made. Watch this lesson to find out more about important end-of-life issues, including having a health care proxy, creating a living will, and being an organ donor.

End of Life

Kate and Jessie have been together for almost two decades, and they've had some great times. But lately, things haven't been as happy because Kate has cancer, and the doctors have said that she doesn't have much time left. Kate has Jessie and friends and family, which makes this time more bearable for her, but there are still some serious decisions left for her to deal with.

As she gets more and more sick, she will be more and more dependent on Jessie, and she has to make arrangements for that day now. Let's look closer at some end-of-life issues that Kate and people like her have to deal with, including having a health care proxy, a living will, and organ donation.

Proxy & Living Will

Kate is okay now, but the day will come when she's too sick to make decisions about her own health or to communicate the decisions that she does make. She wants to plan so that Jessie knows her thoughts about health care and so that he can make decisions for her.

A health care proxy is a legal document that puts someone else in charge of health care decisions if the person becomes unable to make those decisions herself. For example, when Kate is too sick to decide whether she wants to try one more drug or surgery, she'll want Jessie to make those decisions for her. A health care proxy gives him the legal right to make those decisions for her.

But is a health care proxy enough? Kate trusts Jessie, but there are some things that she thinks they don't see eye-to-eye on. For example, if Kate ever ends up on life support, she would rather have them take her off support and let her die than for her to stay alive due to machines. But Jessie loves her and doesn't want her to die at all, so he would rather her stay on life support. Since he has the right to make those decisions (thanks to the health care proxy), he might choose to keep her on life support.

A living will is a legal document that states, in writing, a person's health care wishes in case she is incapacitated. For example, Kate can have a living will that states that she doesn't want to be kept on life support. This way, Jessie and everyone else can know her wishes.

Essentially, a health care proxy gives another person the power to make decisions, while a living will gives the person's own opinion. You can remember this because proxy is a term that means representing someone else, and a will is a document that expresses a person's wishes. A living will allows Kate to communicate her wishes about health care, but it does not explicitly give anyone else the power to make decisions for her.

So, what if Kate ends up in a position that she didn't plan for and address in her living will? In order to cover all her bases, Kate should have both a health care proxy that puts Jessie in charge and a living will that communicates her opinions about certain health care decisions.

Organ Donation

Medical decisions aren't the only ones that Kate has to make about her future. Eventually, everyone will die, and Kate is facing that truth in a more profound way than most people. But what happens to Kate after she dies?

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