Here is a link to an article that was published in the Medford Mail Tribune on February 18, 2016. I was involved in this case as an expert witness for Mr. Harris and his wife, and I was deeply saddened by the ruling of the judge, as well as the position taken by the court-appointed attorney for Mrs. Harris.
The attorney appointed to represent Mrs. Harris notes that her advance directive did not explicitly say she did not want help eating, concluding that, “…the evidence is not yet clear and convincing Fern Gardens should not help Mrs. Harris eat.” I disagree. Testimony from her friends and family all show clearly and convincingly that she did not want assistance in eating at this stage in her disease.
There is no way we can write down in our health directives every possible scenario where we would want our agent to take a specific action. One of the reasons for the directive to is name an agent to speak for us in the event we are unable to speak for ourselves. Through the directive, we give as much guidance as we can as to what is quality of life for each of us. Our agent, using the information provided in the directive, as well as what they know about us, are then tasked with the very difficult job of making end-of-life decisions for us. To only allow the agent to make decisions explicitly stated in the directive is to require a directive too lengthy to be properly read and to ask the person creating the directive to think of every possible way their life might come to an end. It is simply not possible.
Having said that, I urge everyone to re-read their advance directive and to be very proactive in reaching out to their attorney to make sure it is as specific as possible. Attach pages to it describing the kind of life you would be willing to live, and under what circumstances you would not want to continue. Visit GoWish.org, “play” the game and attach a print-out of the results to your directive. Look at Washington State’s Dementia Directive, as well as Compassion and Choices Dementia Provision, and include any part or parts of them to your Oregon directive that speak to you. Have ongoing conversations with your health care agents.
If you have questions about how to go about any part of this, please do not hesitate to contact me. I can not stress the importance of a strongly written health care directive, especially in light of what happened to Mrs. Harris.