Can Life Support Be Withheld If A Patient Has Not Signed A Directive To Physicians?

Most Americans have not executed basic estate planning documents. Studies show that more than half of Americans have not executed a basic will, and even fewer have executed durable powers of attorney and medical powers of attorney, and directive to physicians.

So, what happens if someone suffers a catastrophic injury or illness and is on life support? Can anyone make a determination as to whether life support should be withheld if the patient has not signed a directive to physicians?

In Texas, a decision to terminate life support can be made by the following individuals, in order of priority, if a directive to physicians has not been signed:

  1. An agent under a medical power of attorney
  2. The patient’s spouse
  3. The patient’s adult children
  4. The patient’s parents
  5. The patient’s nearest living relatives
  6. The patient’s court-appointed guardian

A directive to physicians gives Texans the ability share under what circumstances they would like life-sustaining treatment to be administered or withheld so that those tasked with making a very difficult decision will not be emotionally burdened by making the decision without knowing the patient’s wishes; however, the lack of such a document does not create a presumption that the patient opposes a decision to withhold life-sustaining treatment.

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