My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant and a partner with a National Accounting Firm in Toronto. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are written solely in my personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which I am affiliated. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humor/sarcasm. You've been warned.

Monday, February 15, 2016

How my Dying Dog Impacted my Power of Attorney for Personal Care

Recently, I took my own advice and updated my will and power of attorney (“POA”) for both financial and personal care. The process was fairly painless and for those of you that procrastinate, as Nike says “Just do it”.

During this process, my wife and I discovered that we have a philosophical difference in respect to taking heroic measures if our health were to decline. I want no heroic measures and she does.

Reggie & Whitney Pic by Trudy Rudolph
As we were updating our POA for personal care, by unfortunate co-incidence, our dog Reggie (a schnauzer we got as a puppy), was having a terrible string of bad luck health-wise. Not to equate a dog with a human (although many people like their dogs more than humans) but Reggie’s experience became a reference point for our decisions on heroic measures.

Last year, Reggie who was then nine years old and in great health, started wondering off on our walks. For our other dog Whitney, who has a mind of her own, this would not be unusual; but for Reggie, this was strange, as he was a very obedient dog. We also noticed that he seemed to be having trouble finding his food dish. Long story short, he was found to have suffered from SARDS (“Sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome) and in a matter of a couple of days he had gone blind.

Over the next year, Reggie adapted to his blindness and did very well. This past December, we took Reggie to the Veterinarian (“Vet”) for a check-up and were told he needed some dental work. Following the dental work in late December, Reggie seemed unusually sluggish and was acting a bit strange. The Vet ran some tests and did an x-ray. The x-ray discovered a tumour in his lungs which he figured was lung cancer, but further tests were required to be conclusive.

During the Christmas holiday break, our family was trying to figure out our next steps when Reggie suddenly lost the use of his hind legs (probably due to the tumour pressing on his spine), which for a dog is a disaster; as they cannot go to the bathroom own their own. Our family was devastated and could not believe how unlucky one dog could be.

At this point, it became clear Reggie’s quality of life had declined drastically; however, his mind was still very sharp as far as dogs go. We were faced with the gut-wrenching decision as to what was better for Reggie, while also considering our challenges as dog owners. The decision as owners is conflicting. On one hand you want to keep your dog alive because he is your loyal companion, but on the other hand, he was beginning to become a challenge for our family; because he was not able to stand and more importantly, could not urinate fully and independently which we were told can be life threatening to a dog and result in excruciating pain when the urine is not expelled.

Reggie’s health issues became a proxy for my wife and me and our POA for personal care, which were still in progress. I told her if I was Reggie and had all these issues, do not take any heroic measures (i.e.: No chemotherapy or any measure that would prolong my life). She told me, if she was Reggie, she wanted me to do whatever I could to keep her alive assuming she still had all her mental faculties and could move her upper body and arms.

As the person who does not want any heroic measures, I felt we should consider putting Reggie to sleep before he suffered further. But, I was not going to make that decision alone. My son had read about how a doggie wheelchair could assist a dog who has no use of his hind legs. He immediately went to a hardware store and came back with various tubes and wheels and started building Reggie a wheelchair.

We tried it for a couple days and Reggie would not move once harnessed in. We all helped and came up with a couple tweaks to his design and we soon had a Jerry-rigged wheelchair that worked. Reggie with the help of my daughter, who is studying occupational therapy accepted the wheelchair and even wheeled his way to his water bowl for a drink on one occasion.

However, the reality was Reggie still had to be carried everywhere and could not go to the bathroom on his own and at times was shaking (which we were told is often indicative of a dog in pain – dogs supposedly often suppress their pain to not upset their owners).

After much deliberation as a family, we eventually made the decision to put Reggie to sleep.

I have only scratched the surface on the issue of heroic measures in this post, as this saga was more about Reggie. This is an extremely complicated discussion and you should obtain legal advice. I would suggest as a start you read this excellent article by Mark 
 of Whaley 
Litigation, on the issues of heroic measures and end
 decisions. While the article discusses the duty lawyers owe their clients in respect of end of life decisions, it raises all the issues you would need to consider. And those issues are beyond complex. For example, Mark notes that some procedures may be considered heroic when they are first introduced, but maybe common place years later (such as open heart surgery). Note: each province may have differing legislation.

This blog post had a dual intention. It was an ode to Reggie, but it was also meant to alert you to the importance of having a current set of POA’s and how much thought you need to put into your decision regarding heroic measures.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and I have provided no legal advice. I have just made you aware that you should have a POA for personal care. Seek legal advice before executing a POA for personal care.

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.