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Tragic story can serve as reminder about making wishes known

Family members and loved ones might have to make difficult decisions regarding the life of a loved one. In some situations, their choices might not serve their best interests entirely. In these cases, the court might have to step in to ensure their needs are met, which can make a difficult situation even more challenging.

Kent residents may have read or heard about how a tragic story finally came to an end recently when a judge ruled that a brain-dead pregnant woman had to be taken off life support. For one family, the story was a tragedy and a legal nightmare. For Kent residents, it can serve as a reminder of the necessity of long term care planning.

The tragedy began two months earlier, when a Texas man found his pregnant wife unconscious. Doctors presumed the 33-year-old woman had suffered complications from a blood clot and she was later declared brain dead. However, officials at the hospital treating her said they believed that under the laws of their state they had to keep the woman on life support in order to protect her fetus.

The woman's husband and family members fought that decision, arguing that she would not want to have been kept on life support in such a condition. After eight weeks of legal battles, a judge ruled that the woman was legally dead under state law and that the fetus was not viable, and that therefore the hospital must remove her from life support.

This story is unusually horrifying, but in fact many American families must face difficult decisions and debates over a loved one's end-of-life wishes. Advances in medical technology mean that hospitals can keep people on life support for a long time, even when there is no real chance of the patient ever waking up. Without an advanced directive spelling out the patient's medical care desires, it can be heart-wrenchingly difficult to know when to let go.

Long term care planning and end-of-life directives are important for senior citizens, but as this story shows they can be important for younger individuals as well. A professional with experience in these sensitive matters can help individuals and families to make their wishes known and legally enforceable.

Source: USA Today, "Brain-dead pregnant woman taken off life support," Laura Petrecca, Jan. 26, 2014

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