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Can you end life support for yourself?

An Indiana man, Tim Bowers, who was paralyzed from the shoulders down during a recent hunting accident asked that he be removed from life support and died hours later.

Bowers, who fell 16 feet from a tree while hunting recently, suffered a severe spinal injury that paralyzed him from the shoulders down. When Bowers’ family learned of his prognosis they requested that Bowers be brought out of sedation so that he can be told of his condition. The doctors accepted the family’s request and when confronted with his condition Bowers made the decision to be taken off life support.

The newlywed and father-to-be died several hours after the doctors honored his decision to be taken off life support.

Although courts have upheld the right of patients to refuse life support, it is rare that a patient would get to make such a decision for himself after a devastating injury like the one Bowers suffered.

No one ever thinks they will suffer a tragic accident, but unfortunately accidents happen. Since we cannot control what happens in life it is important to plan for a worst-case scenario. One way to plan for the worst-case scenario is to set up a Health Care Proxy and Living Will.

Each State has its own laws regarding health care decision-making. Most States have statutory forms that should be used.

In New York, we have a Health Care Proxy form which allows you to name an agent to make health care decisions.  The Living Will provides instructions to the agent as to the withholding or withdrawing of extraordinary life sustaining treatment (i.e., feeding tubes). Had Mr. Bowers not been able to regain consciousness, a Living Will would have provided instructions to end his life support.

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