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Life Sustaining Measures

When completing your estate planning, difficult questions arise concerning end of life measures. With new advances in medicine, it is possible to extend one’s life using medication or machines to help with breathing, eating, or waste removal. Before deciding on end of life measures, it is important to understand what medical treatment is available and what different life sustaining treatments consist of.

Life sustaining measures are used when a patient is unable to properly function on its own. Unlike other forms of medical treatment, life sustaining measures are used solely to prolong life rather than treat a medical condition.

  • Artificial nutrition and hydration is used when a patient is not receiving the nutrients and water they need. Artificial nutrition requires a feeding tube be placed in either the stomach or upper intestine. Artificial hydration is administered in the form of an IV through a needle.

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is used to restore a patient’s heart beat or breathing. CPR includes many different treatments such as mouth to mouth resuscitation, chest compressions, electric shock, and drugs to restart the heart.

  • Mechanical ventilation supports a patient’s breathing when they are unable to breath on their own. A ventilator will force air into the longs through tubing in the nose or mouth.

  • Dialysis is the process that removes waste products and excess water from the blood. Dialysis is used when the kidneys can no longer perform this task.

While these are just a few forms of life sustaining treatments, the decision of whether or not to include such treatments in your estate planning should be based on the effectiveness of the treatment in relieving suffering and restoring independence. It is ethically and legally acceptable to withdraw life sustaining treatment if it becomes painful, problematic, or no longer beneficial.

Because of all the questions that arise when considering life sustaining treatment, it is important to talk with your doctor about the pros and cons of different types of treatments. Also, talk with your family members about who would be willing to carry out your medical instructions, and who would possibly be willing to make the decision to withdraw treatment if need be. By understanding the types of treatment available and having a reliable family member appointed on your health care power of attorney, it is more likely that your wishes will be honored.

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