Can We Talk? Joan Rivers Death Reinforces Need to Prepare

By Jackie Bedard

It’s perhaps the most difficult decision a person can make: deciding it is time to take a loved one off of life support. There’s an awful power in that responsibility. Once the directive is carried out, there is no going back, no do-over, no reprieve. As difficult as the decision is, it’s also one of the greatest acts of love a person can share with another.

Taking a loved one off of life support is played out privately countless times a day across the United States and around the world. Now imagine having to make that decision in the public eye. That’s what Melissa Rivers did when she decided to take her mother, comic legend Joan Rivers, 81, off life support on September 4, 2014.

Before her death, Joan Rivers named Melissa as her power of attorney to make medical decisions, according to reports. It’s not currently known if Joan Rivers also had a living will or a do not resuscitate (DNR) order, but her death is a note of caution to have these documents in order.

First, the Mayo Clinic says in, “Living wills and advance directives for medical decisions,” found on their website, that you should set up a medical or healthcare power of attorney. The person named can be a family member, a close friend, or a member of a faith community, whomever you trust. Pick alternates in case the person can’t fulfill his or her role.

Choosing someone to act as your health care agent is important because not all situations can be anticipated.

This person should be trusted to follow your wishes and values. The Mayo Clinic continues to say that you should be your advocate if there are disagreements about care.

To make sure your clients’ wishes are known, a living will spells out exactly what they want. Further, the Mayo Clinic points out, it is a written, legal document that details what they would or would not want to keep them alive. In that living will, your clients can detail their wishes on a number of fronts, including: resuscitation, ventilation, feeding tubes, dialysis, and antiviral or antibiotic medications. The more detail they give, the closer their wishes can be followed.

Another helpful document to consider is the DNR. This document tells medical professionals to not resuscitate a patient if his or her heart is unevenly beating or stops. Although these are often thought of as pertaining only to the elderly, they are useful in case of accidents or sudden-onset conditions.

Although death is inevitable, preparing for it can ease both your and your family members’ minds when tough decisions have to be made.