American Bar Foundation

Speaking for the Dying: Life, Death and Law

Friday, February 14 | 2:00 - 3:30 PM | JW Marriott, Austin TX


Seven in ten Americans over the age of 60 who require medical decisions in the final days of life lack capacity to make them. For many of us, the biggest life-and-death decisions—literally—of our lives or of those we love will be made by someone else. 

The recent publication of Speaking for the Dying: Life-and-Death Decisions in Intensive Care (UChicago Press) by ABF research professor, Susan Shapiro, coincided with the passage of a new ABA resolution that reconsiders the role of lawyers in advance care planning. This research seminar marries these empirical and policy perspectives. Drawing on more than two years of observations in two intensive care units, Shapiro describes how decision makers for patients without capacity to speak for themselves actually make life-and-death decisions on their behalf and the limited role of advance directives in this process. In addition to describing the new ABA guidance for lawyers, the panel will also provide the perspective of an ethics consultant facing these wrenching decisions on the ground, day after day.

Panelists & Moderator

Susan P. Shapiro – Research Professor, American Bar Foundation

Virginia A. Brown – Assistant  Professor, Dell Medical School, The University of Texas at Austin

Charles P. Sabatino – Director, American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging


Jo Ann Engelhardt – Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor, Bessemer Trust; Patron Fellow, American Bar Foundation


American Bar Foundation, ABA Senior Lawyers Division