Joseph and Frances were in their late 70s and thoroughly enjoying retirement and good health, but they also were reminded from personal experience that they wouldn’t live forever. During the past 10 years, the married couple had visited family and friends who were hospitalized for various illnesses, and they had attended more than their fair share of funerals.
Joe had named Franny as his Patient Advocate through a Durable Power of Attorney-Healthcare, and vice versa for Franny, so they knew they were protected for any immediate needs. But Joe was beginning to notice that Franny had become uncertain with her day-to-day decision making. Joe wondered aloud if she could make medical decisions for him if necessary, and he seriously doubted whether she could truly “pull the plug” if he fell into a coma or vegetative state — which was his wish.
And frankly, Joe questioned his own ability to think clearly about Franny if such a weighty decision had to be made.
Their family attorney had advised them that a Durable Power of Attorney-Healthcare generally serves two purposes:
- to appoint one or more individuals to make healthcare decisions for a person who has suffered a temporary serious injury or illness, or permanent condition due to dementia, and
- to appoint one or more individuals to make decisions about life-prolonging treatments if a person falls into a permanent coma or vegetative state due to injury or illness.
As their attorney had recommended, the couple had appointed each other as primary patient advocate. But the attorney also had advised them to appoint at least one, and maybe two, backups, generally adult children or very close friends. Joe thought it was time to appoint the backups as their own mental faculties were diminishing.
With three adult children, Franny and Joe discussed privately who might make the best backups. Their attorney had laid out some good considerations for making those decisions, such as temperament, geographic proximity, willingness to accept the role, and fortitude to complete the task.
Their oldest daughter, who lived nearby, was kind hearted and sentimental, a warm person who would be hard pressed to stop life prolonging treatments in the case of a coma. Their firstborn son had was well-established in Chicago, only a three-hour drive away, but he was apt to respond emotionally to stressful situations, just like his sister. Their second son lived nearly 1,200 miles away, but he was able to make tough decisions and follow through on their intentions.
After some deliberation, the couple asked their second son if he would serve as backup patient advocate, even though it might entail hopping on a plane on short notice to fulfill his responsibilities. He immediately agreed, as he saw the appointment as a way to even out the work of caring for his parents. They then asked their daughter to act as the secondary backup in the case of an emergency where every minute counted, such as a possible organ transplant.