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Ending the pain for your loved one

Pennsylvania has very specific laws when it comes to allowing a loved one to die. Whether you are helping with or preparing for these types of decisions, it's important to know your rights and the rights of the patient.

Advanced health care directive

In some states, an advanced health care directive is simply known as the responsibilities of a health care durable power of attorney. In either case, someone is appointed to make health care decisions on behalf of the principal if he or she becomes incapacitated.

Whereas a regular durable power of attorney may make financial decisions for an incapacitated person, the health care directive outlines specific medical wishes that the incapacitated person would prefer.

Of these medical wishes, the principal may choose whether he or she will:

  • Use life support machines
  • Use life support machines, unless they are not working
  • Not use life support treatment
  • Leave life support treatment decisions to the medical decision maker

However, if you are pregnant while incapacitated, Pennsylvania law may require a doctor to give life support treatments, despite your advanced directive wishes.

Life support machines

Life support machines may include:

  • CPR
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • Breathing machine or ventilator
  • Dialysis
  • Feeding tube
  • Blood transfusion
  • Surgery
  • Medicines

No health care directive

If a loved one does not appoint a health care decision maker in a living will or an advanced health care directive, the patient will likely receive life-sustaining treatment indefinitely.

Choosing to die

If a patient is incapacitated or has a terminal illness, withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment does not constitute suicide or homicide.

However, if a person simply wishes to end his or her life and requests help doing it, intentionally aiding another to commit suicide is a crime. This can result in second-degree misdemeanor charges, punishable by one to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine. If the aiding results in death or a failed attempt at suicide, felony charges may result. These are punishable by up to ten years of jail time and a fine up to $25,000.

In 2017, Pennsylvania lawmakers proposed a Death with Dignity bill that would reform this law. However, the bill did not progress after reaching the Senate Judiciary Committee.

While many of us do not anticipate becoming incapacitated or otherwise disabled in an accident, outlining medical wishes for these circumstances makes a huge difference in the course of action that can be taken.

An estate planning attorney can help establish a living will or advanced health care directive to outline your wishes for these types of situations. If you are in a situation involving life-sustaining decision and have more questions, contact an attorney for legal aid.

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