Recently, I watched the season premiere of “Brothers and Sisters.” It was packed with legal issues, pertinent to the type law I practice. You know the show, the strong matriarch, Sally Fields, at the head of the whiny family known as the Walkers. It takes place one year after the horrible automobile accident that occurred at the cliffhanger last May.
Last season left us with a multiple car pileup on the expressway in California. Brother Justin, who conveniently has paramedic training from the military, is crawling to brother in law, Senator Robert McCallister (played by Rob Lowe), to render aid, but Robert, with blood trickling down his beautiful face, tells Justin to move on to Holly and he will wait for the ambulance. Justin then leaves Robert and goes to his mother in law, Holly, to give her first aid. It doesn’t look good for Robert.
As the show starts, we learn that one year has passed, and Robert has been lying in a coma for this last year, since the accident, being kept alive by medical machines, that are probably breathing for him. It is quite tragic and his wife, Kitty, played by Calista Flockhart, has been by his bedside, hoping for a miracle that he will awaken. The physicians have given her little hope, and she is grounding her hope on case studies she has read, where similar coma patients have woken up and resumed a somewhat normal life. Apparently, no family member is able to speak to Kitty about Robert’s situation and her decision to “pull the plug.” During this episode, she rages at her brother, screaming, “It is a hard decision what you are asking me to do!” Well, the family has agonized for one year about Robert lying in limbo, and not really “living.”
These end of life decisions should not have to be Kitty’s decisions, it can be Robert’s. It comes as a surprise to me that he does not have his estate planning completed, and does not have a living will. A living will is a document that specifies whether life sustaining measures should be undertaken to preserve life when one is not expected to recover. Sometimes it is called “pull the plug” document. It is a document that you sign, prior to the end of your life, that signifies your wishes, taking the pressure off of spouses, children or other family members. The majority of my clients want this document for several reasons; to avoid the large medical expense of keeping them alive, and to keep their loved ones from going through the emotional agony. We discuss these very issues with clients in my Central Florida law firm and encourage them to execute this advance directive, along with the other documents such as a trust, will, durable power of attorney, and health care surrogate. I am wondering if Robert did not have a will either? Well, it is television-land and it makes for much better viewing for him to be without legal documents.
By the end of the episode, Kitty realized that it was not her husband lying in the hospital bed, but a body, and she made the decision to disconnect the life support. The episode ends, as usual, with the Walker clan drinking and raising their wine glasses for a toast to Robert. I would rather toast to the advance planning he did to save his family the turmoil of the last year.