Living Wills – And Loving Your Neighbour

Recently I was asked to comment on health care surrogate forms and power of attorney for health.  For these I use the term living wills.  They are directives that a person records that are intended to be used in the event that they become unable to communicate their wishes with respect to medical decision making.  Sometimes the directives are given for a particular person.  Where I live, we use the term Power of Attorney For Person Care (POA).  This is a person who has the legal responsibility to make decisions for someone who is not able to give their own directions with respect to care.  If I understand the laws where I live correctly, the POA of a person is supposed to attempt to make decisions that represent the decisions the person would make if they were able to do so.  A Living Will might designate a POA for personal care.  If one is not designated the law usually gives responsibility to one’s, spouse, then children, then parents and then siblings.  If you write a living will when you are able to make decisions, then when you become unable to make decisions, whoever ends being your POA may find themselves bound by what you have written.  What if your POA does not feel that he/she can, in clear conscience, follow your wishes?  What if your POA thinks that to follow your wishes would require him/her to act contrary to the way they believe God would desire them to act?  Should not these concerns influence what we write in a living will?

I think the following exert from a paper presented by the Ethics Committee of the Free Reformed Churches of North America gives some biblical guidance with respect to writing a living will.

When writing advanced directives and a durable power of attorney for health care, given our responsibility to love our neighbour, we should begin with the following foundation.  We should only ask of others things that are in keeping with the biblical ethic.  We should attempt to leave others the possibility of acting with a clear conscience before God while at the same time honouring out requests. 1

This paper also gives some further suggestions that could help the writer of a living will to write in a way that, out of love for the one who will end up making decisions, gives their POA the freedom to make decision with a clear conscience before God.  First choose an advocates that

hold your values and ethical code in order to apply your wishes to situations not covered in the advanced directive. Sometimes family members do not share such values and your moral code and you may need to choose an advocate from the church to assure your biblical values are implemented. 1

One possible solution is to choose a godly person and providing them with a durable power of attorney that gives them the authority to make decisions for your care as they see fit before the Lord once you are no longer able to do so. This ought to cover most conceivable decision-making controversies that may arise. To do this may be uncomfortable for those of us who desire to remain in control but submission to a person who loves the Lord and thus has God the Holy Spirit within them is in keeping with the biblical ethic. 1

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1.  This quote is taken from the section of a document titled, Resources for Office-Bearer in Dealing With Bio-Ethical Questions, 2009, in the section labelled, Advanced Directives and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, that can be found at http://www.frcna.org/resources/study-reports.  I suspect an updated copy of this report, released in 2013, will be available on this web sited at some point.  In the update the power of attorney section is much the same.  The update contains more information in the area of IVF.

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