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Cohen in Washington Times: Complexity of Living Wills

Contributing to a Washington Times article about end-of-life issues, Professor Lloyd Cohen pointed out that both a power of attorney and a living will present complex problems for those who are facing death and their families.

"In early years, people got ill or injured and died quickly or recovered. This other status where you're maintained in a compromised state didn't exist," Cohen commented, emphasizing the difficult issues faced by the decision maker in determining when and how it is appropriate to withhold forms of treatment.

Consider a living will: How long a person wants to be kept alive by technology, The Washington Times, December 4, 2007. By Christian Toto.

Excerpt:
"The Patients Self-Determination Act of 1991 set the living will practice in motion, says Lloyd Cohen, a law professor with George Mason University.

"'In early years, people got ill or injured and died quickly or recovered. this other status where you're maintained in a compromised state didn't exist,' Mr. Cohen says.

"Living wills are no laughing matter, but Mr. Cohen points to a 'Seinfeld' episode in which Kramer (Michael Richards) left his medical future in Elaine's  (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) hands.

"Elaine had to decide under which scenario doctors should pull the plug on Kramer, a situation played for uncomfortable laughs.

"A show about nothing told the public plenty about how complex living wills can be.

''Giving someone a health care power of attorney, rather than a living will, can give one comfort, but it still remains fraught with complications, Mr. Cohen says.

"He recalls what happened when his uncle was near death years earlier. His aunt was left to make a decision on her husband's behalf. His doctors told her he would never wake from his unconscious state.

"She requested he stay on a ventilator and respirator, thinking she didn't want him to die an unnatural death.

"What she meant was, 'I don't want him to die as a result of my decision,' he says."