Your end-of-life wishes need to be spelled out

Because he had made his wishes known, when 18-year-old Joseph Caleb Roth died of an accidental prescription drug overdose in September, his organs were donated to help others.

Herald Writer Kristi O’Harran profiled the young man’s life story on Sunday. When he received his driver’s license at 16, Roth marked the box indicating his preference to be an organ donor. His mother, Mary Roth, was aware of his wishes. “The loss of his life meant that others lived,” she told O’Harran. His transplanted kidneys, pancreas, corneas, a lung and a heart valve helped many individuals. His donated brain and heart will be used for educational purposes.

Roth’s generosity was only possible because his mother knew that’s what he would have wanted and gave permission for the organ donations. Just having the “red heart” donor symbol on your driver’s license generally isn’t enough in cases where there’s any question about a person’s wishes. Which is why it’s vitally important to make your intent known. In the case of organ donation, be sure to sign the registry at Carry a card signed by witnesses in your wallet or purse.

As the state, doctors and citizens grapple with how to implement Initiative 1000, the assisted suicide measure modeled after Oregon’s law, the reality is that very few people will ever actually meet the strict criteria that would allow them to use it. Since Oregon’s law took effect in 1997, around 340 people — mostly dying of cancer — have used it to end their lives.

Realistically, the majority of people, or unfortunately their families, will face much more common decisions: if or when to remove a ventilator, feeding tubes and other modern means to keep a body functioning. People often claim they want control of their medical decisions, but manage to make it past middle age without ever making their desires known, if they think about it all. For the sake of your relatives, think about it.

If you do not want to be kept alive by artificial means at the end of your life, put it in writing. Let your family know, let your doctor/hospital know. Such decisions are not easy, which is why talking with loved ones is imperative. Most religions offer guidance regarding the extent of “life support” that should be offered to those in comas, persistent vegetative states, etc. These have to be personal choices, because as the Terri Schiavo case showed us, medical experts disagree. So do relatives.

It’s your life. Take responsibility to see that the end is guided by your own choices.

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