Most States Don’t Make Doctors Enforce Advance Directives

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 4, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 4, 2005

Washington, DC ( — The medical community is abuzz with talk about living wills and other advanced directives in the wake of Terri Schiavo’s painful starvation death. However, a new report from a leading pro-life organization shows most states don’t make doctors enforce advance directives.

According to the National Right to Life Committee, the laws of all but ten states may allow physicians and hospitals to disregard advance directives when they call for patients to be provided with treatment food or fluids.

Media outlets and medical professionals have encouraged people to complete advance directives like living wills. However, the report, issued by NRLC’s Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics, charges that health care providers who consider a patient’s "quality of life" too low are defying these directive to deny treatment against patient and family wishes.
Such actions are a concern for the American public, the group said.

A national poll conducted by Polling Company conducted in April found 76% of those told ""A seriously ill patient has indicated they want food and fluids but the doctor thinks the patient’s quality of life too low" say the patient should be able to receive food and water.

Only 14 percent of Americans say the physician should be allowed to withhold them.

The poll found similar views concerning a patient who wants "life support" when the doctor says the quality of life is too low. Some 77 percent say "life support" should not be removed from patients who say they want it and just 14 percent believe the advance directive should be ignored.

Dorothy Timbs, J.D., legislative counsel for the medical ethics center, said, "We believe most Americans will be deeply disturbed that four-fifths of the states do not clearly protect their right to choose food, fluids, or life-preserving medical treatment.

Timbs said it was important for Americans to fill out other forms of advance directives "to make your wish not to be denied food or treatment clear."

"However, it is equally important to work for legal reform so that your choice for life will be honored," Timbs concluded.