September. The weather is still warm, but for parents and children everywhere the crispness of a brand new school year has already replaced the languor of summer. Eighteen-year-olds, in particular, are opening a new chapter in their lives. Some may be off to school in a different city for the first time in their lives. Whether their parents are excited, sad, or both at the impending flight of their fledglings, the students almost uniformly look forward to this new level of independence.
What neither parents nor children probably realize is just how independent they really are. While parents may have been slowly ceding more decision-making power to their children over the years, what they seldom realize is that as soon as their children turn eighteen, they lose the legal right to make any decision for their children. In fact, with few exceptions, parents no longer even have the legal right to find out information about how their eighteen-year-olds are doing, something that takes on even greater importance if the child is going out of town or out of state.
While growing independence seems the natural progression of things, consider the case of one family that dropped their eighteen-year-old daughter off at college, and then could not reach her. As described in a Wall Street Journal article, the parents could not get information from the school or the local hospital. After actually driving to the hospital, they found their daughter had been in a coma for three days following a spider bite.
Seems crazy? It’s the law. Even if they will always be your baby, that eighteen-year old is an adult in the eyes of the law. And the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 2002 ensures that an adult’s medical information is private and cannot be shared without express permission. If that adult is unable to grant that permission for any reason — for example, because they are in a coma — their doctor is legally prohibited from speaking to anyone, including their parents. This applies even if the child is still covered under the parents’ insurance.
What to do? It’s actually relatively easy. By signing a healthcare power of attorney, an eighteen-year-old can grant their parents the ability to act as their child’s agent in an emergency.
But the best way to ensure proper medical treatment for a Jew — of any age — is a halachic medical directive, commonly known as a halachic living will. This document not only appoints a healthcare agent (known as a healthcare proxy in some states), it also ensures that in case of a medical emergency no steps will be taken that contradict the patient’s values, as determined by the rabbi of their choice.
Having a halachic living will is imperative for all Jews, but merely executing one leaves open the possibility that the document will not be found when it is needed. For that reason, The National Association of Chevra Kadisha (NASCK) has created the EMES Card, a credit card–sized document that contains much of the pertinent information in a halachic living will and attaches to a driver’s license or other ID card.
Click here for our free EMES Card program, available on the NASCK website under Programs. The EMES Card program includes:
- The most up-to-date versions of the halachic living wills produced by both Agudath Israel and the Rabbinical Council of America, in downloadable form;
- Each state’s requirements for ensuring the halachic living will is legally binding;
- An online order form for free EMES cards from NASCK.
Because NASCK has seen how effective its EMES card program is, we have also put together free step-by-step toolkits that allow a synagogue or other organization to hold Halachic Living Will Signup events. These toolkits are available here.
Being unable to help their child in an emergency is a terrifying thought for any parent. But the fact is that any adult who does not have a halachic living will has also opened themselves up to the possibility that they will not be treated appropriately in an emergency.
So not only should you add a halachic living will to your eighteen-year-old’s back-to-school to-do list, you should fill one out for yourself at the same time. And if you have a seventeen-year-old, there’s no need to wait till back-to-school time. A halachic living will may be the best birthday present they will ever receive.
For more information, or to ask questions about halachic living wills or EMES cards, please contact us by clicking here.
Click here to get information about a wide variety of end-of-life issues by subscribing to Here and Hereafter: Conversations for Mortals, the blog of the National Association of Chevra Kadisha.
And let us know in the comments what you’d like to hear about in future posts!