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Can a Living Will Prevent Life and Death Battle?



Could a living will have avoided the current debate over Jahi McMath, the brain dead California girl? The California girl who was declared brain dead after undergoing a routine tonsillectomy operation has gained national attention. The current legal battle between her family and medical care providers over whether to keep her on life support has been making daily headlines in the media.

Her family has also gained the support of pro-life groups, including the one founded by Terry Schiavo's family. Many readers will remember her story. Terry Schiavo was a Florida woman who spent 15 years in a vegetative state before her death in 2005, and her family's legal battle to keep her alive gained similar attention. The court fight over whether to remove Mrs. Schiavo's life support pitted her husband against her parents. The case dragged on for 12 years, cost the litigants hundreds of thousands of dollars, and split her grieving loved ones apart.

The major difference between the cases is that Jahi McGrath was declared brain dead, and is considered legally dead in the eyes of the law. Terry Schiavo wasn't legally dead, but was in a persistent vegetative state. Therefore, Terri Schiavo's parents had a stronger argument that she might regain consciousness someday. Also, Terry Schiavo was an adult when she was hospitalized at age 26, whereas Jahi McGrath is a minor.

Some have wondered whether a living will, also called an advance healthcare directive or medical power of attorney, could have prevented these legal battles, and the additional anguish for the loved ones of the patients. A living will allows people to express their preferences for medical treatment and life support measures if they are unable to make healthcare decisions themselves. This essential legal document is governed by state laws, which vary by state.

In the case of Terry Schiavo, her family definitely could have been spared the time, expense, and hardship of drawn out litigation if she had prepared a living will. In Jahi McMath's situation, she's only 13 years old, and California law requires that a person be an adult to make a valid living will. However, in some areas, like Texas, a parent can sign an advance health directive that expresses the child's medical care and life support wishes.

If you've been debating whether Jahi McMath's end-of-life decisions should be a matter decided by the care facility, government, or her parents, you should be aware that this debate and legal wrangling becomes unnecessary when a living will has been executed. That's why this important legal document is vital to spare your family and loved ones additional grief and court battles in an already stressful situation. As you debate who should prevail in the McMath case, you should ask yourself whether you've prepared a valid living will so you can prevent a similar battle for your own family and loved ones.


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