06/12/06 — OPINION -- Prolonging dying

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OPINION -- Prolonging dying

By Gene Price
Published in News on June 12, 2006 1:45 PM

Many among us have signed "living wills."

These are documents saying that should we become hopelessly and terminally ill, no "heroic measures" should be employed to keep us alive.

There have been instances in which people in hopeless comas have been kept on life support machines for years.

Their families have been subjected to protracted emotional trauma and overwhelming financial hardships.

Living wills are intended to avoid this -- to avoid a drawn-out stand-off between "life" and death when the end is inevitable.

But apparently there have been some problems with living wills. Usually they are prepared by attorneys. And doctors subsequently involved in the cases might be faced with technical uncertainties from a medical standpoint. This can be exacerbated by disputes between family members over "pulling the plug."

There are, of course, philosophical disagreements over the use -- or nonuse -- life support measures in medically hopeless cases.

But individuals who chose living wills, obviously have made that their choice. Their view is that a living will can in no way be regarded as some sort of suicide agreement.

In some cases life support systems aren't prolonging life -- they are prolonging dying.

And some of us don't want that for either ourselves or our loved ones.

At this writing, efforts are being made to create legislation that would accommodate the intention of living wills. With the combined brilliance of our doctors, lawyers and legislators, the task should not be insurmountable.