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Medical Advance Directive: An Emphatic "NO!" to Dementia

Norman Cantor, a lawyer and Professor of Law at Rutgers University School of Law wrote a thoughtful article about the medical Advance Directive in the Harvard Law School “Bill of Health” blog
and explaining why he is revising his own medical Advance Directive to instruct his physicians and caretakers to allow him to die if he had developed a dementia “upon reaching a degree of permanent mental dysfunction that I deem to be intolerably demeaning.  For me, this means mental deterioration to a point when I can no longer read and understand written material such as a newspaper or financial records such as a checkbook”

Read his entire presentation at the Harvard Law blog link above and then return to present your views on adding profound mental deterioration to the list of physical illnesses which are irreversible and can be highly distressful to the patient and his family’s lives and which he does not want to experience or have his family experience further and if he should face a treatable but serious life threatening condition, he should be allowed to die.

Hopefully, all of my blog readers have their own medical Advance Directive written to designate  a  surrogate to attend to their wishes for treatment of a potentially fatal illness when it occurs. If not, as your physician moderator of this bioethics blog, I would strongly recommend it be created and available for your physicians later to read and observe your directive.

  With Professor Cantor’s permission, his Revised Advance Directive is reproduced below. ..Maurice..                                                       
My Revised Advance Directive
     I have witnessed the ravages that Alzheimer’s disease and similar progressive dementias produce.  I wish to be allowed to die upon reaching a degree of permanent mental dysfunction that I deem to be intolerably demeaning.  For me, this means mental deterioration to a point when I can no longer read and understand written material such as a newspaper or financial records such as a checkbook.       
     This wish to hasten my post-competence demise is not based on prospective suffering or distress, but rather on my personal vision of intolerable indignity and degradation associated with cognitive dysfunction.  For me, it is critical to shape the post-mortem recollections of my loved ones and to preserve the lifetime image as a vital, critically thinking individual that I have strived to cultivate.  In addition, it is important to me to avoid being an emotional, physical, or financial burden on my family and friends, even if they would willingly assume such burdens. 
    I fully understand that my determination to avoid prolonged, progressive debilitation could prompt my demise even though I might appear content in my debilitated condition.  I am exercising my prerogatives of self-determination and bodily integrity to shape my lifetime narrative, including my dying process, in accord with my strong aversions to mental dysfunction and to dependence on others. 
     My determination not to prolong my life at the described point of debilitation includes rejection of any and all life-sustaining means.  This includes simplistic medical interventions such as antibiotics, blood transfusions, and antiarrythmics, as well as more complex interventions like CPR, mechanical ventilation, dialysis, and artificial nutrition and hydration.  Indeed, if my dementia or any other affliction has produced inability or unwillingness to feed myself – for example, because of swallowing difficulties, or other eating disorders, or just indifference to eating — I instruct that my caregivers refrain from hand feeding unless I appear receptive to eating and drinking (show signs of enjoyment or positive anticipation).  If I am indifferent or resistant to hand feeding, I do not want to be cajoled, harassed, or in any way impelled to eat or drink.   
     The only limitation on my advance rejection of life-sustaining medical intervention is adherence to humane treatment.  That is, I have no desire to subject my future incompetent persona to a torturous or agonizing dying process.  I presume that palliative steps — including medication for pain, anxiety, or agitation — will be taken to ease my dying process. 

     The question may arise as to whether I have had a change of mind and revoked my advance directive.  My wish is that no revocation be found unless I do so while still capable of a considered choice, including appreciation of all the major elements involved.  I urge my decision-making agents to avoid the temptation of manipulating my future, incompetent persona to contradict or alter my advance instructions.  And I direct that my original instructions be honored absent an aware, considered change of mind (as opposed to uncomprehending expressions by my demented persona). 

Graphic: Through Google Images. “5th Dementia”PAINTING BY JEFF BOWERING Saatchi Art

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