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Lessons from Casey Kasem’s Death

Recently Casey Kasem died in a hospital moments after a judge gave Kasem’s daughter permission to authorize the removal of Kasem’s feeding and hydration tubes. For those old enough to remember Casey Kasem’s Top 40 countdown every Sunday, it is also easy to remember Terri Schiavo. For all of us, Kasem’s death should be a reminder that we need plans for the end of our lives.

Casey Kasem did everything right. He had an advanced directive (Living Will in Louisiana) saying that he did not want food or water if his body was shutting down as part of the natural dying process. He also assigned his daughter as his decision-maker (Healthcare Power of Attorney in Louisiana). So what went wrong?

First, Kasem’s wife, who is not the mother of Kasem’s daughter, appears to be crazy. She actually performed her interpretation of a Biblical scene for news cameras and threw raw meat on the ground. Second, it was not clear whether Kasem was dying of natural causes or was merely suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. The combination of these two things forced the daughter into court. Luckily, Kasem’s directive was clear and the doctor attested that Kasem’s current physical state should trigger the directive.

This proves that even if you do everything correctly to plan a comfortable passing, there may still be litigation associated with it. However, if Kasem did not have an advanced directive and a decision maker appointed, this whole situation could have been much worse. Consulting an attorney about a Living Will and a Healthcare Power of Attorney can save you and your family pain and discomfort in the long run and provide you with litigation support if anyone tries to contest the Living Will in court. Here is what you need to know.

A Living Will is not a “Do Not Resuscitate.” It is a legal form that conveys your end of life wishes regarding only medication, food, and hydration. Additionally, a Living Will can only be relied upon when the patient has a condition that is “terminal and irreversible” such that the application of life-sustaining procedures would serve only to artificially prolong the dying process. Two physicians need to certify that the above is true in order to withhold food, water, or medication in conformity with the Living Will.

This is where the Healthcare Power of Attorney comes in, since obviously if someone has a terminal and irreversible condition that will result in death, he probably will not be able to ensure that his wishes are complied with. If you do not have a Healthcare Power of Attorney, here is the list of people that will be making the decisions on your behalf or enforcing your Living Will (in hierarchical order):

1.       The patient’s spouse

2.       The patient’s adult children

3.       The patient’s parents

4.       The patient’s siblings

5.       The patient’s other relatives

In the event that a category has more than one person (i.e. – 3 children, etc.), the decision must be unanimous. If you want someone other than the person / people listed to make your medical decisions if you are unable, then you need a Healthcare Power of Attorney.