Live or die? Case puts focus on planning

Most divorce disputes revolve around the custody of the child, not his right to live or die. The widely publicized recent case of a comatose man at the UVA Medical Center put a spotlight on the value of advance planning.

"Much of the burden on loved ones would be lifted if people would name a surrogate decision maker to speak for them," says Cindy Westley. "They should discuss their wishes for future medical care," the UVA nurse practitioner adds. She's promoting Health Care Decisions Week, which starts October 20, with programs running into November.

"Our goal is for adults of all ages to understand that they have the right to have their wishes for medical care known before an unfortunate situation or emergency occurs," says Westley.

After a car crash on July 16, 26-year-old Appomattox resident Jason Childress suffered such severe brain damage that doctors wanted to discontinue his life support, in accordance with the wishes of his mother, sister, and fianceƩ. His father and stepmother opposed the move.

In an unusual twist, a court handed the matter to a neutral third-party, retired Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Herbert Pickford. Pickford ruled that Childress's ventilator tube should be removed, and it was disconnected on September 11. However, Childress continues to breathe on his own and has been transferred to a nursing home.

Childress reportedly had told some family members that he wouldn't want to live in a vegetative state, but such wishes were never documented.

The Advance Care Planning Facilitator Workshop educates adults on the necessary steps to take to avoid such a situation. "In order to have their wishes followed, people need to think through their values and goals and communicate with their loved ones," says Westley.

Other events include the November 6 showing and discussion of Waltzing in the Reaper, a play about dying with dignity.

For more information, contact Cindy Westley at 243-2832 or Suzanne Smith at 982-8407.