The Sad Last Days of Casey Kasem
If you keep up with pop culture, you are probably aware of the drama currently surrounding Casey Kasem. (If you don't keep up with pop culture, Casey Kasem used to host the American Top 40 radio show and was the voice of Shaggy on Scooby Doo, among other things.) Casey was married to his first wife from 1972 to 1979, and they had three children, Mike, Julie, and Kerri. He married Jean Kasem in 1980. They are still married and have one child, Liberty. (You might remember Jean from Cheers. She was the tall, dumb blonde married to Carla's ex-husband.)
Casey has been suffering from chronic illnesses, including Parkinson's, cannot speak, and is now near death. His wife Jean and his children from his first marriage have been fighting in the courts regarding his treatment and access to him.
The public feud began in October of 2013 when his three oldest children picketed in front of his home near Beverly Hills saying that Jean had denied them access to their father for three months. Daughter Julie then filed a petition asking the California court to appoint her as conservator (which is equivalent to being appointed guardian). Under California law (and the law of most states), Casey's wife would be first in line to be appointed conservator. However, Casey had signed a medical power of attorney in 2007 naming Julie as his health care agent. His California medical power of attorney (like the standard Illinois health care power of attorney) included a provision that if a conservator was ever appointed, Casey requested that his medical agent (Julie) be appointed as the conservator. The power of attorney also expressed Casey's wishes that he would not want treatment that "would result in a mere biological existence, devoid of cognitive function, with no reasonable hope for normal functioning."
The court denied the request for a conservator in November 2013 and ordered Jean and Casey's children to agree on a visitation schedule. The feuding continued while Casey's condition continued to deteriorate, and Casey "disappeared" in May. Jean had moved him to an undisclosed location, preventing his children from seeing him. Jean's lawyer stated that Casey was out of the country. He was ultimately found in Washington state.
In May the court appointed daughter Kerri as conservator. Kerri believed it was best for her father and in accordance with his wishes to stop artificial food and hydration, and directed the doctors to do so on June 6. On June 9 the court ruled that Kerri could not do so, however, after reviewing additional medical information and the recommendation of doctors, the judge ruled on June 11 that the measures could be stopped because they would "at best prolong the dying process for him and will certainly add suffering to an already terribly uncomfortable dying process."
Casey's children have maintained throughout this ordeal that their only concern was for their father's welfare. Their story is given credibility by the fact that they apparently are not in Kasem's will and haven't been for years. Of course, one can never know what is truly in someone's heart.
Casey Kasem's situation may remind you of Terri Schiavo from Florida who died in 2005. Unlike Casey, Terri Schiavo did not have a medical power of attorney or living will, and her husband and parents fought over her care for years in court. Her husband eventually prevailed, and he removed her feeding tube.
What can you do to avoid a situation like this in your family? You should make your wishes regarding medical treatment known to your family and your doctors and other medical providers. Illinois law provides for several documents that you can use to express our wishes.
The first document is a "living will." A living will governs "death delaying procedures." It provides that if you are suffering from an "incurable and irreversible injury, disease, or illness, judged to be a terminal condition by your attending physician who has personally examined you and has determined that your death is imminent except for death delaying procedures," that your physician is to withhold or withdraw the death delaying procedures and to administer treatment only as necessary to provide comfort to you.
The second document is a health care power of attorney. Although the health care power of attorney also addresses the termination of life support, it is actually much broader in scope. An agent under a health care power of attorney can authorize medication, surgery, and even organ donation.
A third document is a do not resuscitate order ("DNR"). A DNR order directs medical care providers not to start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or other medical procedures if your heart or breathing stops. A DNR must be executed by your doctor and is prepared only after you have become ill. Unlike the living will and health care power of attorney, it is not prepared by healthy people in advance.
All of these forms can be found online at the Department of Public Health's web site at http://www.idph.state.il.us/public/books/advin.htm. If you choose to prepare your own documents, you must follow all instructions carefully. For example, each document requires witnesses, and the witnesses cannot be related to you.
Signing your documents is a great first step, but it's not all you need to do. You need to clearly express your wishes to your family and other decision makers. They need to know what you want so that they can comply with your wishes. You also need to review your documents regularly. Have you married or divorced since you signed your documents? Do you now have adult children you would like to name? Have you become estranged from a child? Not having documents is bad enough, but having documents that name the wrong person can be even worse.