Most folks do not want to think about their demise. Confronting the fact that life, however long, is merely temporary is never easy for anyone to come to terms with. We live our lives on a day-to-day basis, going to work, hugging our kids, and spending time with family and friends. To think that there will come a day when we no longer do those things is difficult to fathom.
But it could happen to anyone: a sudden vehicle collision on the way to work might cause injuries so severe that the victim suffers a coma, or worse, brain damage. Someone we love could – like Casey Kasem – go from reasonably stable condition one day to a toxic blood condition the next, rapidly deteriorating in health to the point where living a life of dignity is no longer possible. At what point do we instruct those who love and care for us to let us go and to put an end to our prolonged suffering?
These are tough questions that have no universally right or wrong answer. Each person must make those individual decisions on their own, based on their life experiences, circumstances, and beliefs. However, the time to make those decisions is far in advance of needing to make those decisions. By the time family members will have to make difficult choices when it comes to your medical treatment and possibly allowing your life to end, it will probably be too late for you to tell them what your wishes are.
Casey Kasem’s recent passing highlights this sensitive situation. Casey Kasem, whose health had been declining for some time, suffered from dementia and other ailments. His wife recently moved him out of a care facility in California to Washington State, where Kasem was being cared for by his wife and friends. The move was made without informing the family, and without informing the court, where a case regarding Kasem’s care was pending. During this time, his condition rapidly deteriorated to the point where Kasem had to be hospitalized for bed sores and infections – conditions that the family has alleged would have been preventable had Kasem been given the proper level of care. The judge gave Kasem’s daughter court authority to take over Kasem’s care decisions via a conservatorship proceeding.
The family transferred Kasem to a hospital where he was put under hospice care. Doctors opined that Kasem is likely to perish from these sores and infections, and that keeping Kasem on life support will only be prolonging the inevitable. Because of this, Kasem’s daughter sought withdrawal of life support pursuant to her father’s wishes as stated in a health care directive. A legal battle ensued between the daughter and Kasem’s wife, who adamantly opposed Kasem being taken off life support.
Ultimately, Kasem’s daughter won the legal challenge because in 2007, after Casey Kasem began to take ill, he executed the health care directive naming his daughter from a prior marriage, instead of his wife, to make medical and end-of-life decisions. The document stated that Kasem was not to be kept alive if it “would result in a mere biological existence, devoid of cognitive function, with no reasonable hope for normal functioning.”
Documents like Kasem’s attempt to avoid litigation. However, as Kasem’s circumstances exemplify, litigation is not always avoidable if family members choose to pursue it. Nevertheless, it can minimize the amount of litigation that occurs. This case was a quick one, easily resolved, because Kasem’s intentions were clearly documented. The lesson here is that without good end of life planning, Kasem – and his family – might still be suffering.