After a car accident in 1990, David Bojanowski was left in what doctors called a persistent vegetative state. His mother, Nicci, called it an “awful nightmare.”
The 27-year-old man had failed to plan for his death, leaving his mother with a yearlong battle to do what she thought was best: take her son off life support and finally allow him to die.
The American Medical Association started a campaign Sunday aimed at sparing others some of her anguish. It urged Americans to sign “advance directives,” a kind of combination living will and health-care power of attorney.
“By not having one you are literally saying, ‘I want somebody else to do it,’ ” Bojanowski said. “If you want control over your own life, then you must take control over your own death.”
Because her son was over 21, Bojanowski could not make health-care decisions for him. Maryland law requires either an advance directive of a health-care power of attorney. Bojanowski’s son, an independent construction contractor who was engaged to be married two weeks later, had neither.
It took a year from the time of the accident for Bojanowski to persuade a court to allow her son to die.
“People create a will to take care of their finances and material possessions. Doesn’t it make sense to do the same thing for their health care?” asked Dr. P. John Seward, chairman of the AMA’s board of trustees.
The AMA worked with the American Bar Association to come up with a form that would be legal in every state, and the American Association of Retired Persons is helping spread the word to its members.
A survey taken for the AMA showed that most people do not know much about advance directives and do not have one, but when they are told what the documents are, they consider them important to have.
Kathi Hamlon, spokeswoman for the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force, said people should be sure to choose a surrogate decision-maker they truly trust.
“We are at a time when much emphasis is being placed on managed care, with doctors given incentives to lower costs by rationing treatment and limiting treatment,” Hamlon said. “We are against a living will in which the signer gives all authority to some attending physician.”