What is a living will?
A living will – also known as an advance directive – is a legal document that specifies the type of medical care a person wants or does not want in the event that they are unable to communicate their wishes.
In the case of an unconscious person who suffers from a terminal illness or life-threatening injury, doctors and hospitals consult the living will to determine whether or not the patient wants life-saving treatment, such as breathing assisted or probe feeding. In the absence of a living will, decisions regarding medical care become the responsibility of the spouse, family members or other third parties. These people may ignore the patient’s wishes or may not want to follow the patient’s unwritten verbal directions.
Understanding a living will
Living wills and advance directives only come into play when you are faced with a life-threatening situation and are unable to communicate your treatment wishes. Doctors do not consult wills for standard medical care that does not involve life-threatening situations. Each state provides for the drafting of a living will, although some states call the document a medical directive or health care attorney. Some states allow you to prepare a detailed and personalized living will, while others require you to complete a standardized form.
What is included in a living will?
A living will covers many common medical procedures in life-threatening situations, such as resuscitation by electric shock, ventilation, and dialysis. You can choose to allow some or none of these procedures. We can also indicate if they wish to donate organs and tissues after death. Even if the patient refuses life-saving care, they may express the desire to receive pain relievers throughout their last hours.
In most states, the living will can be extended to cover situations where there is no brain activity or where doctors expect them to remain unconscious for the rest of their lives, even in the absence of a terminal illness or life-threatening injury. Because these situations can occur to anyone at any age, it is a good idea for all adults to have a living will.
How is a health care proxy different from a living will?
In addition to the living will, one can select a health care attorney who is empowered to make decisions if he is unable to make these choices. Some states call this person a power of attorney for health care. Living wills cover many medical decisions, but a health care attorney can consult the doctor about other problems that may arise. When faced with the loss of a loved one, families often disagree about treatment, so having a health care representative reduces confusion about final wishes. You should discuss the wishes with the attorney before appointing this person and be sure that the attorney is ready to follow through on your wishes.