Gary Coleman's Death Highlights Importance Of End-Of-Life Decisions

Actor Gary Coleman's death is highlighting the importance of who makes your end-of-life decisions and is drawing attention to the fact that having a "living will" does not always guarantee that your wishes will be carried out, CNN reports.

Coleman died from a brain hemorrhage last month after his former wife, whom he had designated to make medical decision for him, decided to take him off life support a day after he fell into a coma. But "Coleman's living will said he wanted to be kept alive unless he was in an irreversible coma for at least 15 days, according to a court document. … Although it may seem strange that a former spouse could decide whether a person lives or dies, experts say it's not unheard of, since it's up to the health care proxy to determine what the patient would have wanted." A spouse, health care agent, proxy, surrogate or power of attorney has the authority to talk to the doctor on behalf of an incapacitated patient. "The living will, also called an 'advance directive,' is primarily a guideline, experts say. Different states have different regulations governing how much weight the living will carries and how much authority the health care agent has. Caringinfo.org, run by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, has state-specific forms" (Landau, 6/16).

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