Don't keep me on a ventilator.
That has long been one of the tenets of a living will for many people, but that principle about the way we control our fates is changing amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"Right now with Covid-19, people are faced with the possibility of going onto ventilators, intubation or other life-saving measures that they typically in their living wills said they don’t want," Montgomery County attorney Erin Saulino said.
Estate attorneys are busy reworking living wills or writing up new ones because of the increased chances of being put on a ventilator when suffering from a Covid-19 infection. Not only are ventilators being used more than ever in hospitals, patients also are not able to have family visit them. Hospitals are isolating coronavirus patients in order to halt the spread of the infectious disease.
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"People are definitely concerned with the whole idea of being hospitalized, and three months ago is definitely different than now," attorney Robert Keltos, of Rothamel & Associates LLP in Marlton, New Jersey, said. "We’ve been adding specific paragraphs about Covid-19 and the use of ventilators in that very particular instance. But it’s a fine line. You want it clear that you want to be put on the ventilator if it’s going to, in the long run, improve your well being. You want to be absolutely clear that you want the ventilator in the circumstance that it’s not an end-of-life situation."
In Philadelphia and Montgomery County alone, nearly 350 people were on ventilators this week struggling to overcome the virus that attacks the respiratory system.
In hard-hit New Jersey, which has by far the second-most number of cases by state in the country, hundreds of people are on ventilators.
"It's kind of unprecedented because it goes against what traditionally people have put in their living wills and their advanced directives," Saulino said.
Keltos recommended that anyone over 18 years old create a living will and have it notarized. In New Jersey, lawmakers have allowed new ways for notarizing documents because of the limited personal interactions.
"This comes into play if you can’t communicate," he said of having a living will in place, which gives medical decision-making to a loved one in case you are incapacitated. "A lot of times, or almost all cases, that person can't be in the room with you, and you’re otherwise relying on overtaxed healthcare workers to make these decisions for you."
Here are some suggestions for those who want to create a living will, and why they are important: