For several weeks, the nation was riveted by the controversy surrounding the decision to pull Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube. Terri Schiavo’s husband and parents fought in the press and in the courts. Congressional leaders rushed through legislation in an attempt to prompt judicial action. Political commentators on the cable news networks had a field day.
In New Mexico since 1995, all of the conflict and controversy surrounding Terri Schiavo’s situation is completely preventable. In 1995, New Mexico enacted the Uniform Health Care Decisions Act which provides an optional form called a Health Care Directive which, if executed before death, avoids the conflicts that arose in the Terri Schiavo case.
The New Mexico Health Care Directive has two important parts. The first part is a Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions. The second part allows an individual to make advance end of life decisions. The second part is sometimes called a “living will.”
Health Care Power of Attorney
The New Mexico Advance Health Care Directive allows an individual to name an agent or agents to make health care decisions. The form also provides for alternate agents and allows an individual to limit or custom craft the specific authority that is given to the health care power of attorney. The form also allows the individual to determine whether the agent’s authority to make health care decisions takes place immediately, or whether that authority arises only upon incapacity.
End of Life Decisions and Instructions for Health Care
The New Mexico Health Care Directive also allows an individual to indicate whether he or she chooses to prolong life, chooses not to prolong life, or chooses to let his or her agent decide whether to prolong life. These end of life decisions apply in situations where: a.) the individual is unable to make or communicate decisions regarding health care and is suffering from an incurable or irreversible condition that will result in death within a relatively short time, b.) is unconscious and to a reasonable degree of medical certainty will not regain consciousness, or c.) where the risks and burdens of treatment outweigh the expected benefits.
Artificial Nutrition and Hydration
If an individual chooses not to prolong life, there is a specific section of the health care directive that allows an individual to specify whether they do or do not wish to receive artificial nutrition and hydration.
The New Mexico Health Care Directive also has provisions that allow an individual to give advance directive regarding relief from pain, anatomical gift designation, and any specific wishes.
The New Mexico form is optional and modifiable. By the express terms of the New Mexico Statute, any individual may complete or modify all or any part of the New Mexico Health Care Directive.
The primary intent of the Uniform Health Care Decisions Act by New Mexico in 1995 is to encourage health care providers to honor patients’ wishes and to reduce the need for court appointed guardians and adversary court proceedings. In New Mexico, adults have the right to make their own health care decisions, including seeking and refusing treatment.