There is a great scene in the movie, The Post, where the Washington Post has to decide whether to publish the Pentagon Papers.  If the posting ‘damages national security’, they will be faced with a lawsuit.  The subjectivity of what may damage national security, and the discussion that ensued between the lawyers, board members, and journalists at the Post got me thinking about end of life wishes and the use of boilerplate clauses.

Almost all powers of attorney for personal care include language addressing end of life decisions.  Common is the boilerplate ‘no heroic measures’ clause, which often reads as follows, “…if there is no reasonable expectation of my recovery…I be allowed to die and not be kept alive by artificial or heroic measures”.

But what does ‘heroic measures’ actually mean?  For some, such as in Bonnie Grover’s 1995 article in the Journal of Law & Policy:  “heroic measures conjures up visions of brilliant and daring doctors, enormously skilled nurses and technicians, high-tech machines, masses of tubing and bottles, and perhaps even a patient lying somewhere amongst it all…”.  For others, “…medical practice recommends use of heroic measures if there is a scintilla of a chance that the patient will recover, on the assumption that the measures will be discontinued should the patient improve”.  Differing interpretations go on and on.  So what should be done about it?

To ensure that end of life wishes are carried out as intended, grantors, in addition to making a power of attorney, should consider making a living will/advance directive, and discuss their wishes with their attorney.  Clear instructions and wishes should also be conveyed to the drafting solicitor.

Drafting solicitors should review end of life clauses in detail with their client, make sure they are understood, and ensure that detailed notes are taken.

Noah Weisberg

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