Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Free online forms can simplify end-of-life decisions

Almost everyone remembers the intense legal battle that raged for years between the former husband and parents of Terry Schiavo, a woman in Florida in a persistent vegetative state.
Before Terry there was Nancy Cruzan, another woman in a persistent vegetative state, whose case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As a result of these cases, many people are interested in having input into health-care decisions at the end of their lives and at a time when they might not be able to express their wishes.

Although you can retain a lawyer to draft a living will and a durable health-care power of attorney, that's not the only alternative.

There also are free, helpful forms on the website of the Tennessee Department of Health at

The forms are available in English and Spanish.

One form is an Advance Care Plan. Filling out this form allows one to appoint an agent to make health-care decisions when he or she is no longer able to do so. The form also allows someone to define exactly what conditions would create an unacceptable quality of life, such as permanent confusion or an illness at the end of life that is too much to bear.

Then, if the quality of life evolves into an unacceptable condition as the patient has defined that term, the form allows the patient to choose whether he or she wants cardiopulmonary resuscitation, life support, a feeding tube or IV fluids, among other options.

The form can be signed in front of two witnesses or in front of a notary public. It does not require both.

Back to basics

Another form on the website is even more basic. The form for appointment of a health-care agent allows the patient to appoint an agent to make health-care decisions and an alternate agent, in case the first one is not willing or able to serve.

Again, the form can be witnessed or notarized.

Doctors also can help their patients make end-of-life decisions. There is a form on the Department of Health website for a physician to appoint a surrogate to make decisions for a patient who is not able to do so.

The doctor checks off reasons that would make this person a suitable surrogate, and the surrogate must accept the appointment.

The fourth and final form also is one for the physician to fill out and sign. It is called Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment. This form can be especially important for incapacitated persons who want to make sure that emergency medical personnel follow their wishes.

I have a friend who has the form taped to her door at a nursing home.

The form provides specifically that it goes with a patient who is transferred or discharged.

We like to believe that nothing will ever happen to us. It is a good idea to take a minute to realize that isn't true and print out, complete and sign the Advance Care Plan or Appointment of Health Care Agent Form from the Department of Health website.

Barbara Moss is an attorney with the law firm of Norris & Norris PLC. Contact her at

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