Former NBA basketball star Lamar Odom has been in the headlines recently because of a medical emergency he experienced that left him comatose and unresponsive. Because of his incapacitation, Odom was unable to communicate his health care wishes to his doctors. At the time of his emergency the former basketball player was also going through a divorce. While Odom has apparently recovered enough to regain capacity, there was a period in which it appeared that the person responsible for making decisions on the star’s behalf was his soon-to-be divorced wife.
Odom’s Medical Emergency
Lamar Odom was found unconscious and unresponsive in Nevada in early October. After being transported to a Las Vegas area hospital, hospital officials revealed that the star was comatose. As with any incapacitated patient, Odom’s health care providers had to rely on others when they provided the star with treatment, or needed someone to make choices for him. In the Odom situation the responsibility of making medical decisions on his behalf fell to his wife, and television star, Khloe Kardashian.
At the time of his incapacitation, Odom and Kardashian were going through a divorce in California. Though the two seemed intent on ending their marriage, a final divorce decree had not been issued and the couple remained legally married.
When he became incapacitated, Odom was a married man and his wife was still empowered to make medical decisions on his behalf, whether Odom would have wanted her to or not.
Odom’s Medical Directives
While some states allow spouses to make medical decisions on behalf of an incapacitated spouse, all states allow a mentally capable adult to choose someone else to serve as his or her medical representative. As long as an adult creates a health care power of attorney and an advance medical directive (“living will”) that comply with state law, he or she can choose anyone to serve as the health care proxy and is under no obligation to choose a spouse.
At the time of his incapacitation, because Odom did not have health care documents in place designating someone else as his health care proxy, medical decision-making responsibilities still fell to his estranged wife.
Learning From the Odom Case
While Odom is now capable of making his own medical choices, we can learn from his situation. If Odom did not want his wife making medical decisions on his behalf, he should have executed new health care documents naming a health care proxy of his choosing.
Capable adults in Oklahoma, Kansas, or Missouri can create health care documents that not only allow them to choose their health care proxies, but that allow them to detail the medical choices or decisions they want made for them. Because state laws differ, talking to an attorney about creating the right medical plans is essential.
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