In my line of work I have the unenviable task of asking really difficult questions. While I have developed quite a thick skin to them in a professional sense, I assure you that it remains extremely challenging to ask my clients questions I know may be very upsetting to them. I don’t delight in making my clients uncomfortable, but I do take great pleasure in helping them ensure that they are removing those burdens from the people they love.
I sometimes have to make a judgment call, based upon what I have come to learn about my clients through our meetings, about whether to even ask them certain truly disturbing and less conventional questions. These questions raise ethical, religious, and moral dilemmas for most people and the law is often slow to catch up to science.
Here are 3 such questions:
- What would you want to happen if you or your spouse were pregnant and on life support with no reasonable hope for recovery?
- If you have undergone in vitro fertilization, what would you wish to happen with any frozen eggs, sperm, or embryos you may still have stored?
- If you or your spouse were on life support with no reasonable hope of recovery, would you want to request or wish to consent to egg or sperm retrieval for the purpose of posthumously conceived children? This is precisely what happened a few months ago involving a 36-year-old woman here in Massachusetts.
It’s easy to see where patients’ spouses, their respective families of origin, and the patients’ doctors might reasonably disagree about these matters. These disagreements can create profound tension, straining otherwise loving and supportive relationships, and testing professional, ethical, and moral boundaries.
As Margaret Collins wrote in her article, “Rise of In Vitro Offspring Ignites Question of Rightful Heirs”, some state legislatures have begun to address these concerns adapting the appropriate laws, such as the Probate Code, to keep better pace with biomedical advancements, but so much of this area remains legally untested and uncertain. Accordingly, the best practice is to consider these questions for yourself and then clearly document your wishes along with your other medical wishes, as part of your comprehensive, personal estate plan.
Would you want to leave these decisions up to your spouse to decide later? Would you prefer to make appropriate arrangements to address certain situations now? Would you like to make express provisions for any posthumously conceived children under your estate plan? What would your parents want under their own estate plans with respect to any posthumously conceived grandchildren? Have you left clear expressions of your wishes on these issues?
If your estate planning attorney has not raised these issues with you and you have concerns or clear wishes about them, please be sure to discuss them with her right away.