I recently returned from a much-needed vacation down south (which is also the reason this blog has been silent for a little while). On the plane ride home, I flipped through my movie options and came across The Descendants, which I was a little familiar with because of the recent Oscars. I was quite pleasantly surprised to discover that Hollywood had made a movie about what I practice, as large parts of the plot line concerned the Rule Against Perpetuities and advance directives. I’ll talk more about perpetuities later this week, but for today I thought I would discuss advance directives.
Many people will remember Terri Schiavo, who was the subject of a major legal battle in the United States a few years back. She collapsed in her home, suffered extreme brain damage, and was in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years until her death in 2005. For the last seven years of her life, her husband and parents fought a protracted legal battle over whether her feeding tube should be removed and she should be allowed to die, with her husband eventually being found to have the authority to end her life supportive treatments.
In The Descendants, Elizabeth King suffers a similarly traumatic injury, but she has signed an advance directive detailing her wishes in the event that she cannot survive without life support. This takes the decision away from her husband, who must simply allow her wishes to be carried out, and does not need to decide what she might have wanted.
In Ontario, the document used to direct your care is called a Power of Attorney for Personal Care. In creating such a document, you are given the ability to choose who is to make decisions and what decisions they are to make. In my opinion, this is one of the most important documents you can have in place. It allows you to be the person who decides what happens with your care and, perhaps even more importantly, who makes those decisions, so that what is done is what you would have done if you could have made the decision yourself. If you are over 16, you owe it to yourself to have a Power of Attorney in place.