Monday, June 16, 2014

The Battle Over Casey Kasem’s Medical Care: Lessons in Incapacity Planning

Last month I mentioned that every person should have a basic estate plan, including a medical directive.  This directive is not only necessary for the elderly, but also for anyone who could find themselves incapacitated temporarily or permanently.  

The experience of legendary American Top 40 host, Casey Kasem, can serve as a great example as to why this is so important. His use of such a medical directive and the fight over his care are putting health care directives in the spotlight.  Casey has the classic situation of second wife and children from his first marriage. Not to say this isn’t a very workable and loving situation, but often when money and health care decisions come into play, even a loving relationship can break down.

In 2007, Kasem was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.  At that time he signed a medical directive giving his oldest daughter health care agent status.  In the next few years, as his health deteriorated, his second wife started to isolate him from his children.  She also took over his medical care and even moved him from California to Washington.  

Over the last several weeks they have been battling in court over who can make health care decisions for him, and whether the children have the right to visit their father. Further, Casey specified in his directive that he wished not to be kept alive artificially. Kasem’s wife and children have been directly at odds about this decision.  The courts have been forced to evaluate the medical directive granting the power, and, after a few twists and turns, have now confirmed his daughter’s power to make medical decisions, including the withholding of food and water.  Unfortunately, Casey lost his battle yesterday and passed away.  We hope that he found some peace in his final moments.

The lesson?  Your family is likely to be reluctant to impose anything other than lifesaving options when you are suffering and dying in front of them, and doctors and other medical professionals take an oath to save your life at all costs. If this is something that you feel strongly about, your choice to forego treatment HAS to be in a legally binding medical directive.  Making this decision for your family relieves the burden from them of making this decision on your behalf.

Many people, like Casey, suffer from debilitating illnesses, and they have no desire to prolong life and their suffering.  Everyone should have that choice.  However, you have to make that choice when you are lucid, thoughtful, and rational, and you should select someone with the courage to see that your wish is carried out.  

“Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.” Casey Kasemweekly signoff from American Top 40.

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