Who would you trust to pull your plug – Parents or Spouse?

My brother has been in the hospital this week for testing and surgery. He is hoping to get on the heart transplant list fairly soon so he is pretty medically fragile at this point.

While I was visiting with him Wednesday night before his surgery, he made a big point to tell me that he wanted me to know that should something happen and he end up in a vegetative state that his wife is to be the one to make the decision to pull the plug, not our mother. (He had told our mother this earlier but he wanted a witness to help enforce his decision.)

He said that he didn’t want to be a burden to his wife, and he knew that our mother would never pull the plug on him.

I joked that I would actually want mother to be in charge of my plug pulling because I think Michael would pull it immediately. “What, she’s been in a coma for a day. Pull that plug!”

I know there are directives you can leave so the hospital knows your wishes, but for now let’s stick to the question:

Who would you trust more to make the decision of whether to pull your plug: Your parents or your spouse?

32 comments Add your comment


March 27th, 2009
7:46 am

Theresa, please know that you, your brother and your family are in my prayers for a good outcome.

To the question: Wow — this would REALLY depend on the family dynamics! I would rather that neither of them were in the position of having to make that decision, but if it came down to it, my husband would probably cope with the decision better than my parents. My husband and I talked about this for a long time when we made our Living Wills when the kids were small. Neither one of us wanted to put our parents in that position, and we trust the other to honor our wishes about not hanging around under artificial means just for the sake of being “alive”. IMHO, that’s not “alive”, that’s just existing, but I know that outlook is fraught with societal and religious influences.

I keep flashing back to that scene in “Steel Magnolias” when Julia Roberts’ character dies, and her husband is signing the consent form to remove her from life support. I’m not sure her mother would have ever signed it.

And for the rest of you: If you have children of any age, please make sure that you have living wills and estate wills drawn up, dictating your preferences for guardianship, etc. You may not think you have an “estate”, but your children are your most precious legacy. A will and a plan helps lessen the chaos when dealing with a parent’s death at any age.


March 27th, 2009
8:13 am

First off, my thoughts are with you and your family Theresa!!!. I hope everything turns out ok. Please keep us posted.

On topic, my entire family knows my wishes. I do not wish to be kept alive by a machine, not the quality of life I’m looking for. When it’s my time to go, please let me go.

Also, I do NOT want a funeral. I want whoever is left and in charge, to hold a wake, and celebrate my life. Don’t morn my passing, celebrate my life. Laugh and reminisce about the good times we had, and what a wonderful life I had.

Do not bury me. I want to be creamated, and scattered in Colorado over the Rocky Mountains, or the ocean (I Don’t care which one). I do not want to be in the ground, I want to be free.

I don’t believe in heaven or hell, so that’s why I don’t want a religious funeral. I just want family and friends to remember who I was, and how I lived.

I don’t have a spouse at this time, so my family knows……..pull it!!!


March 27th, 2009
8:57 am

I am praying for your family Theresa!

This is a great topic. My husband and I each need to ask our parents what their wills say. My husband knows to pull the plug on me and to donate my organs. He also knows to cremate me and spread my ashes in the mote around Cinderella’s castle at Disney World.

DB….that scene in Steel Magnolia’s was heart wrenching. Grey’s Anatomy had a storyline about when to pull the plug several episodes ago. It was about an older couple and the husband just could not turn the machines off even though the wife had told him to .


March 27th, 2009
9:13 am

Theresa, I hope a miracle is in store for your family! I will keep you all in my prayers!

Life savings measures are so difficult. I think the hardest thing to remember is “quality” of life versus “quantity”. If the remainder of your life is spent in a vegetative state, there is NO quality left. If the situation is temporary to help the body rest to heal, that is one thing, but if it is just to keep the body functions going, that is no life for me!

I’m not sure who I would want. I think my husband and I are both pretty adamant about not being kept on life support just to be alive. We had a question in philosophy about the body and the soul/spirit? Who needs who to survive. It was very thought provoking.

We have a couple of nurses in our family, so life prolonging support is often a topic for us. Also, 3 years ago, we had to make a decision about whether to let my brother (who was suffering from cancer)pass on, or be placed on life support. It was a VERY difficult decision. We knew what he wanted, but it was still difficult to agree with his decision and not provide extra efforts. His wife ultimately left the decision up to mom. It is something I hope I NEVER have to go through again.

Back to the spirit/soul comment. 2 of my sisters and mom were with him at the beginning of the end. They said they could tell when his “life” was actually gone. His body continued it’s “fight” if you will, but his soul had moved on. I think those are the kinds of things that should be looked at when making these decisions.

I would trust my husband to make that kind of a decision for me as I would for him. I would also trust my parents to make the same decision.

Like JJ, I’m not sure I want a funeral. It’s not because of the religious aspect (I believe in God with all my heart), it’s more because of logistics, etc. My family lives in a different state. I would like to be “shared” with the earth in a place that I found beautiful and comforting. My husband wants to be cremated for totally different reasons.

I think the biggest thing is to make sure that ALL of your family knows your wishes, so that if/when the time arises, the decision isn’t up to just one person alone. Everyone can share the responsibility.


March 27th, 2009
9:24 am

Theresa, please know that you and your family are in my thoughts & prayers…

As for pulling the plug, I think my husband is like Michael, he’d pull it in no time flat..But that’s ok, because that would be what I would want also..

I’m also like JJ, don’t mourn (sp) me..I don’t want flowers, I want to be creamated & my ashes dumped over a shoe store or somewhere in the mountains..My entire family knows this also..I am a organ donor & this is the only reason that I would want to be kept alive for any length of time..

I also don’t want any sad music played in my memory, play something cheerful & happy..AND, please don’t have an autospy done on me..Unless it can be of help to someone else..I’m dead & cutting me open isn’t going to bring me back to life..


March 27th, 2009
9:39 am

I’m with those who want to be cremated and who want no part of a funeral(but my spouse says funerals/memorial services are for the family – it gives closure – whatever)!

Like JJ, I want the family and friends (if I have any left) to remember me as I was, not as I am at that final moment. And my spouse knows to pull the plug and donate my organs (if any are any good). Finally, I want Jumpin’ Jack Flash played as the last song, cause it really is all right now!


March 27th, 2009
10:22 am

Yes, I am an organ donor too. Everyone one in my family is a donor also.

They can play Van Halen or Journey at my Wake.


March 27th, 2009
10:28 am

My grandmother died in 2001 and there was a decision to/not to sign to do-not-resuscitate. She was really, really sick and very, very tired of fighting. My grandfather and my mama had to make the decision and let me tell you – my grandfather almost lost his mind. Mama said he broke down in the hall of the hospital. She held it in while she was tending to him but lost it too as soon as he was okay. Hell, I lost it when she told me and I was not even there. At any rate, my grandmother gave them both a “gift”. She woke up asking for grits and a bed pan. LOL! So she was off the machine when she died. She went quietly with no need for resuscitation so their agreement was never acted upon.


March 27th, 2009
10:52 am

Echoing all the feelings for your family Theresa.

BTW: See, the Google Reader DOES work to draw me back occassionally! :)

On topic, My parents are the more practical ones normally, but they have proven that they will do whatever it takes to keep me around. So realistically, I don’t think I could trust EITHER parents OR wife to do as I wished!

That said, I’d want my wife to make the decision, and I’d want her to hit the buttons/pull the cables to make it happen. Yes, I know it would be torturous on her, but I think it would help her heal sooner and better knowing that she did everything she could, and that she was honoring my decision one final time.

Honestly though, I’d prefer to go violently and suddenly. I don’t want to know its coming, and I don’t want to be hanging on by a thread so that these decisions have to be made in the first place. One second I’m alive and active, the next I’m dead and not so active.. :)

As far as funerals, I’d rather everyone go out and have a blast. There will be plenty of time to mourn me later. While the wound is fresh, go out and LIVE. Remember me for who I was, which was a fun loving, caring guy. And honor that by being with each other but having FUN and forgetting about me for a while.


March 27th, 2009
12:19 pm

Your family is in our prayers.

I would have my husband as the one. I believe he would do what was needed but not before.

On this type of subject, it is a good idea to have both medical power of attorney and financial power of attorney between spouses. My friend is having to go through the court system in order to handle her husband’s finances because he is now disabled due to a brain injury. So, even though she has been involved in handling the family finances for years, she now is accountable to the state for what she does with the disability money he gets. If she had a power of attorney on him, then she would not have to go through this additional stressful step.


March 27th, 2009
1:36 pm

Theresa, I’ll keep y’all in our prayers.

Well when I was married, my husband was very clear—don’t pull that plug!!! (EVER) I have no idea what his parent would do, and he is engaged now so it will be between them.

I am not sure what I want. I have no desire to be burden, but medicine makes interesting discoveries daily. I keep joking to people, since I have the kids and no desire for my ex & his future wife to raise them, I will just have to scheme to stay alive.

I am not sure whom I would trust to make the decision at this point.

Active Duty Mom

March 27th, 2009
1:38 pm

Regardless of your wishes, they won’t mean anything to medical personnel unless you have a Medical Power of Attorney and an Advanced Medical Directive (Living Will) that is signed by you and notarized. It is a good idea to have a copy of these with you if you ever have to go into the hospital for treatment or surgery and have the medical staff place them in your inpatient record. It is also a good idea to have a copy of these in your outpatient record at your doctor’s office as well. You need to be as specific as possible with your wishes–i.e., whether or not you want a feeding tube or other nutrition support such as intravenous feedings, whether or not you want to be on a ventilator, whether or not you wish to have a DNR (Do Not Resucitate). As a Registered Dietitian, I have seen this come up several times before and the Terry Schiavo case really hit this home to a lot of health professionals. Unless you specify it in writing, if you are unconscious and unable to speak for yourself, medical staff will ask the legal next of kin for a decision. If you are married, this means your spouse. If you have a Medical Power of Attorney and Advanced Medical Directive, please let your family know where it is located in case you have to enter the hospital in an emergency and are unable to speak for yourself. Something to think about!


March 27th, 2009
1:42 pm



March 27th, 2009
1:45 pm

Both times I had surgery last year, they asked if I had a Will, or if my family knew of my final wishes. I told them yes I have a will, but my family knows what I want them to do.

So Active Duty Mom is correct. Get a Will…….You can do them yourself, you don’t need an attorney. There are forms on the internet, but they want money. They also have standard forms at most office supply stores…….It is VERY important to have a Will, not only for your final wishes, and for your children. If you don’t and die, everything you have will go to the State and they will decide what to do with it.


March 27th, 2009
1:57 pm

I guess things have changed since my Mom passed. She had no will or power of attorney when she was in the hospital..Her Dr. knew that her wish was DNR & at the end when we were waiting on my sister to get here from MO., he would not keep her on life support for just that length of time..He said, that was not her wish..


March 27th, 2009
6:04 pm

Ditto on the thoughts and prayers. I hope everything works out for your brother and family. I think I could count on three of my brothers for sure, but not my parents or sisters, and maybe not my husband. He had a tough time when his mother did it for his father. He was with his mom when his dad died. He said he was too emotional and could not let go. My husband was also with his sister when her husband wound up on life support…completely unexpected. The hospital administrators brought the paperwork to her three times before she would sign it and remove the machines. It was very sad. He was 38 years old. My husband knows what I would want, but I’d have my brother be there for insurance. My eldest brother has the medical power of attorney, etc. for both my parents. A sister is the exectrix of the estate. My parents chose them b/c they know they would follow their wishes. They also realized that if they did not put it in writing, there was no way the ten of us would agree on a course of action. I think I would have a tough time removing life support, even though I believe in it and knew it was their wishes. I would do it, but not without reservation.


March 27th, 2009
6:33 pm

theresa prayers for your brother..i know god will give your family the strength yall need to get through this however it turns out.

i wouldnt want to be kept alive and not living-i have no husband or parents so it would be up to my kids-i think i need to get some legal stuff drawn up as to what i want-i have told my kids all of this-but i cant imagine them really pulling the plug on me. my oldest daughter says she can-and maybe if i was really gone and suffering they could-but geeze i dont want them to have to do that. as for the funeral-i have a cd of music i want played-and instructions-my 2 best friends have copies-but i have told my kids that they are to do whatever is best for them-i want to be cremated but im not sure they could do that-after im dead it doesnt matter to me. i have the cd and instructions in case they cant deal with it-that way they really dont have to-i want a celebration of my life-not a bunch of sad dark stuff. its gonna be sad enough-i want people to say things to make my loved ones laugh and remember the great life ive had!


March 27th, 2009
6:38 pm

oh and there is no way either of my sons could do it…and im really not sure about my 3 daughters-im pretty sure my older sister couldnt-and my younger sister i dont think could either..and so much depends on the reason-we had to make the decision for my dad and we made it-but he was older and had no hope at all…so a lot would depend on circumstances. so if i make a living will would that take care of it or do i need to do the lawyer thing?


March 27th, 2009
6:58 pm

wow i posted another post and it was there-when i reloaded my page it went away…strange


March 27th, 2009
7:57 pm

@FCM No I didn’t, I caught the tail end of it a day later. Go check it! :)


March 28th, 2009
1:01 am

Theresa, I am so sorry to hear about your brother. I had no idea he was in need of a heart.

I would definitely want my husband to make the decision. I’ve already told him if there is no reasonable chance of improvement, please “pull the plug”. My husband also knows to cremate my remains. No Burial please!!! I would never put my children through that. I have terrible images of my dad’s funeral when I was 12. I prefer a celebration of life. All my friends and loved ones can joke and talk about how crazy I am. I would like for them to be looking at all my scrapbook pages that I have painstakingly put together as opposed to my rigid shell. (people never look like they did when they were living-funeral homes never know how to style the hair nor put on makeup like the person wore).Sorry to deviate from the topic.

Once again, my husband knows all this. I trust him completely.

Active Duty Mom

March 28th, 2009
12:18 pm

Fk’s comments are exactly why you want to have an Advanced Medical Directive and Medical Power of Attorney. Emotions have a way of taking over when a loved one is in the hospital and the prognosis is poor. I have seen this countless times and the family is much better off when it is spelled out clearly in a legal document. Speaking of how to obtain the documents, yes you can get these documents online, but caveat emptor. Sometimes it works out okay, but you get what you pay for. When it comes to your last wishes, do you really want to skimp on this, especially when you have kids? This is why attorneys get paid the big bucks.


March 29th, 2009
10:38 am

Since my parents are both deceased, and I am divorced, I will leave the decision up to my two kids to come to a decision as to what, when and how I leave this Earthly home to meet My Maker. I will also state in my will that if there is no chance for recovery, that all attempts to keep me in a vegetative state indefinitely be stopped immediately. However, on the other hand, if there is even a small chance I could recover, I would want the heroics.


March 29th, 2009
10:40 am

Theresa as you’ve already read from some of the posters in here, my thoughts and prayers will be with your brother, yourself and your family. As for the question you posed about pulling the plug, I would definitely have my wife do it. My family(especially my Dad) have already made it clear that despite my preference towards quality of life instead of quantity, they would keep me on life support and ignore my wishes. That’s why as I get older, I will be making a clear record of my wishes through legal documents, video recording (with me telling doctors what I want), and anything else that would keep my parents from making me another Terry Schivo(Yeah I know I probably misspelled her last name). I have always had a strong belief that if anything catastrophic happened to me and my quality of life was going to be acutely diminished or nonexistent that I be allowed to pass. I already have poor vision that requires me to depend on others includinig my family from time to time for transporation. I will not live a life where my family has to literally do EVERYTHING for me. It’s not the way I want them to live their lives. And more importantly, it’s not the way I would want to live MY LIFE.


March 29th, 2009
11:25 am

if i had children with my spouse, the decision would go to my spouse. if we don’t share children, the decision would go to my parents

Chris Broe

March 29th, 2009
11:43 am

Life is triage.

Ayn Rand was right

March 29th, 2009
12:10 pm

Theresa – sending thoughts and prayers to you and your brother for a perfect outcome.

I think both my husband and my mother would struggle with the decision, but would support each other in the final outcome. We are moving into a time when people view death differently. People born before WWII often dealt with tragic and unexpected death due to a lack of treatment options. These generations find it harder to decline life saving treatments, because they remember when there were none. For these members of society, declining these options is almost like turning down a gift from God. Those of us fortunate enough to have grow up with life saving options do not face this dilemma in quite the same manner.

On another note, I will never be able to go Disney or shoe shopping again without wondering who is floating in the air around me.


March 29th, 2009
3:35 pm

Theresa, I am praying for your brother. I hope all goes well for him.


March 31st, 2009
5:55 pm

My family had to make this decision the day after Thanksgiving last year. My mom suffered a massive brain hemorrhage, while visiting me here and spent 3 days on life support. We waited until my dad & brother got here to make the decision. We kept her an extra day because we were donating her organs. It was the toughest decision I (and the family) have ever had to make, but we could not bear seeing her in that state. She would not want to spend her life in a vegetative state either.

Hope all goes well for your brother.


April 3rd, 2009
12:22 pm

I don’t think Disney lets you put ashes in the moat.


April 4th, 2009
1:34 pm

My parents are dead and I am divorced also, but my older daughter is the one for the decision. She is a very sensible person. She is to listen to the counsel of her siblings, but she makes the decision. One of the trials of being the eldest, I guess. We have talked a lot about this because 2 years ago I was involved in a botched removal of the gall bladder and was paralyzed and on a vent and she saw how awful that was. She understands my wishes even better now. God bless those who have to be the ones to decide.


April 4th, 2009
1:36 pm

Teresa, can you do a blog on funeral plans?