So who will decide Bobbi Kristina’s fate? Her father or Nick Gordon, her alleged husband? An advance health care directive would have made this situation a lot easier. Bobby Brown, Bobbi Kristina’s father, is keeping a vigil beside his daughter as she struggles for her life. A statement by Bobby Brown’s attorney recently stated that Bobbi Kristina and Nick Gordon were never actually married, even though, outwardly, there was no reason to suspect that they were not.
What does this news that there was never a marriage mean for Bobbi Kristina? Assuming that she never signed an Advance Health Care Directive or living will, if Bobbi Kristina were a Pennsylvania resident, and she was not married to Nick Gordon, then her father, Bobby Brown, would be making all of the medical decisions for her. However, if there was a valid marriage between the two, Nick Gordon would be the decision maker.
In Pennsylvania, we have a law that appoints surrogate medical decision makers for individuals who do not have healthcare power of attorney documents or who have not had a guardian of their person appointed. The law also applies when a person’s chosen health care agent is not reasonably available, meaning, for example, that the agent has died or is out of the country. In order for doctors to defer to another person, rather than to the patient herself, the attending physician must declare her to be incapacitated.
The spouse is the first family member doctors turn to for making decisions. If there is no spouse or if a divorce is pending, then the patient’s adult children will make decisions for her. If the patient has no adult children and no spouse, then her parents, followed by her siblings, and her adult grandchildren (if any). Finally, only if none of these people are available, will an adult who is intimately familiar with the patient’s values and preferences be permitted to make decisions.
In Bobbi Kristina’s case, everything depends on whether or not her marriage to Nick Gordon is valid. Simply claiming to be married, calling someone your husband or wife, wearing a ring and living together, are not enough, in Pennsylvania, to establish that a marriage exists. Any couple wishing to wed must do so by obtaining a marriage license and going through all of the legal formalities of marriage.
If Nick and Bobbi Kristina went through those steps to establish a valid marriage, then he would be the one to make medical decisions for her. On the other hand, if they never obtained a marriage license and officially married, then her father will be the one to call the shots. At this point, no one can say who Bobbi Kristina wanted to make decisions for her – we can certainly guess that the man she called her husband would be the one she would choose, but we will never know for sure. In any event, if Bobbi Kristina didn’t have an advance health care directive, what she wants doesn’t matter – the law chooses the person who will decide her fate.
This case illustrates how, in Pennsylvania, Advance Healthcare Directives are crucial for individuals in domestic partnership arrangements. Even though Pennsylvania now recognizes same-sex marriage, the law still does not offer the same protections to unmarried couples as it does to those who are married. How can you be sure that your long-time partner will have permission to be at your bedside, to get information from doctors and to be the one to make decisions for you? The only way to guarantee that the person you want is making decisions for you is to sign an Advance Healthcare Directive. In this document, you will formally appoint someone – anyone you choose -to make healthcare choices for you. This person will also instruct doctors on how to carry out your final wishes if you are, like Bobbi Kristina, in an end-stage medical condition from which you are unlikely to recover.
We can’t overstate the importance of having an Advance Health Care Directive in place to make sure your wishes are carried out. To discuss how you can get one of these documents and appoint your own Health Care Agent, call McMorrow Law, LLC at (724) 940-0100.