Rock-n-roll icon, Tom Petty, died yesterday at the UCLA Medical Center after suffering cardiac arrest at his Malibu home. Family members and bandmates surrounded Petty when he passed. He was 66-years old.
Cardiac arrest is a condition often confused with a heart attack. The conditions, however, are distinct. The heart’s electrical systems suddenly fail in cardiac arrest. This can cause the heart to stop beating which deprives the victim’s brain and organs of oxygen.
Many patients suffer brain damage or fall into a persistent-vegetative-state if they even survive cardiac arrest. Because of post-cardiac arrest limitations, many patients are unable to make decisions about what ongoing healthcare they receive.
Death comes often, and it comes quickly, in cardiac arrest patients. While those suffering from a heart attack can often identify warning signs hours or days ahead of the actual emergency.
Patients in a persistent-vegetative-state are unable to make medical decisions
Persistent-vegetative-state is caused by oxygen deprivation in the brain. Patients with this condition cannot feed themselves. They cannot communicate. They cannot bathe or groom themselves. These patients look like they are awake and alert, but their brainwaves are minimal and they cannot stay alive without significant help from doctors, medical equipment, and/or caretakers.
When a patient falls into a persistent-vegetative-state, he or she is no longer able to decide which treatments or interventions a doctor will perform.
When doctors believe that ongoing medical treatment will be futile (i.e., it does no good, or more harm than good) they often try to withdraw further treatment. We have seen this on T.V. when the doctor tells a family to discontinue life-support. It is a devastatingly bitter pill for family members to swallow.
The development of medical research and technology allows people to live long past the point when natural death would have occurred as a result of illness or injury one hundred years ago. So it’s easy to see why many patients family and friends want to continue medical treatment on a patient for as long as possible.
There’s just one small problem. Family and friends have limited rights to make medical decisions for their loved ones. But that doesn’t stop them from trying.
The debate over whether or not to keep Terri Schiavo alive captivated the nation in 2005. Protestors lined the streets of downtown Tallahassee in the weeks leading up to her death.
A medical power of attorney cures the tension between doctors and families
Debates between doctors and loved ones about ongoing patient care don’t have to happen. A medical power of attorney is a document that allows you to dictate who will make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to. This document gives your designated agent the power to discuss your illness or injury and your treatment with your physician. Your selected agent also has the power to make medical treatment and end of life decisions
A medical power of attorney is often written at the same time as a living will. A living will helps you document your wishes for end-of-life treatment. If you want to be kept alive for as long as possible on life support, your loved ones need to know. If you never want to be put on life support, your loved ones need to know!
Do yourself, and your family, a favor by getting a medical power of attorney and living will A.S.A.P. No one should have to suffer through that terrible decision while contemplating the death of a loved one.
Our condolences to the family and friends of Tom Petty.