A Living Will is typically a written statement which details a person’s desire with regards to any future medical treatment. This desire covers those circumstances which make it impossible for them to express their decisions clearly as they would when they are in good health. It goes by other names like ‘advance directive,’ ‘healthcare directive.’
What a living will states?
The scope of the document is in force as long as the individual concerned is still alive. It ceases to hold after the death of the affected individual. The document states the following:
- In case you intend to use any sophisticated medical equipment like ventilators, dialysis machines, and so on to maintain you alive.
- Instructions prohibiting the use of CPR in the event of heartbeat or breathing problems.
- Whether you prefer liquid or fluids intakes or food tube feeding if you cannot eat normally.
- In case you desire treatment for nausea, pain and other associated symptoms but cannot make this decision independently at that time.
- Whether you intend to have your organs or other bodily tissues donated after your death.
Differences between a living will and Medical Power of Attorney
A living will differ from the medical power of attorney in that it is drafted and worded expressly by you. The latter may be drafted by a third party, typically a legal agent who is familiar with your health and has some permission from you too! Be sure to confirm that he has your best interests at heart before delegating this responsibility to him though.
What is a living will?
A living will is a medical document that offers your physician, loved ones and family members the directions that touch on your preferences for end-of-life care in case you become incapacitated to the extent of not being able to make that decision on your own.
Examples of living wills
The living will come in diverse shades and forms. They may, however, be categorized into three main kinds namely:
- A ‘durable power of attorney for health care’ or ‘medical power of attorney’ – This one delegate the decision making to a third party, typically your own attorney.
- POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) – In this instance, the decision is triggered by a healthcare practitioner rather than the patient himself. It achieves the same end though.
- ‘Do not Resuscitate’ (DNR) Orders – The aim of this specific document is to restrain the physician from resuscitating the patient if he happens to experience breathing or blood circulatory issues.
How a living will help in life-threatening conditions?
Eliminates any Ambiguities or Grey Areas
Its most significant importance is the fact that it eliminates any ambiguities or grey areas. That is because it states what ought to be done well in advance and clearly for that matter.
Cuts down Medical Costs
Some medical interventions may usually be too costly to carry out. These are those that pertain to the end of life like resuscitation and dialysis. Many who draft this will exempt the doctors from engaging such machines, which ultimately cuts down medical costs.
Offers Psychological Preparations
This document provides the psychological preparedness necessary to handle the death or terminal illness of a patient appropriately. It dispels any likely confusion well in advance to make your doctors and relatives enjoy the utmost peace of mind.
Prevents any Unnecessary Conflicts
It is not uncommon for conflicts to arise between the doctor and the patient or his relatives when the latter is terminally ill and cannot speak for himself. This document yet again exists to prevent such ghastly scenes from arising.
Helps with Litigation
If and when any conflicts or disagreements spill over to the courtroom, this document can help with litigation. It may be used to argue a court case and provide the evidence needed to arrive at a fair judgment.
How to make a living will?
You may choose to go solo or incorporate the intervention of an attorney. Either way, you will still have to file the document with a relevant government office. Follow the procedures outlined hereunder to make it:
Step I: Determine your likely treatment options
Commence by determining your preferred treatment options. To do this, anticipate the medical conditions which you are more likely to suffer from. Examples are Severe Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia, a vegetative state, or a coma.
What would you do in the unlikely event that any of these issues arise? Would you like the doctor to do everything he can to preserve your life? On the flip side, would you wish to die peaceably if you can no longer eat or breathe on your own? Try and involve your entire family to make them ready too! You also want to incorporate their views.
Step II: Narrow down to your preferred end-of-life-decisions
Having answered the questions above, move on now to narrow down to your preferred end-of-life-decisions. Apart from the healthcare approaches, we have envisaged above, what else would you rather be done to you at this stage? Would you wish that a religious leader or priest speak some rites?
Step III: Choose a suitable healthcare agent
Many people make provisions for a healthcare agent to implement some wishes. You might find this one helpful if any grey areas arise or exist in your end-of-life. In particular, it plays a vital role when there is a reasonable chance for survival. While optional, it is, by all means, a good one to consider.
Step IV: Sign the form
Lastly, sign the form to make it authentic. While at it have the signing witnessed by some close members of the family and if possible even notarized. Each state has its own additional requirements which you must also fulfill while drafting this vital document.
Possible end-of-life care decisions to discuss in your living will
There are a number of possible end-of-life care decisions which you may discuss in your living will. Below are but a few of them:
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is an emergency medical procedure which endeavors to preserve the functioning of the brain until such a time that further medical care may be conducted. It incorporates the chest compressions often and artificial ventilation.
In the unlikely event of not being able to breathe, mechanical ventilation is invoked. It makes use of mechanical approaches to yield the breathing power. The concept is also called assisted breathing.
For those who cannot eat normally, tube feeding comes in to provide the necessary assistance. Here, a tube is used to channel usually liquid foods to the body’s cardiovascular system directly.
Many people experience kidney failures as they age. This is where the kidney dialysis comes in. It plays the same roles as a kidney i.e. purifying the blood, filter out impurities, and maintain your blood spotlessly clean.
Antibiotics or Antiretroviral Medication
Most terminal illnesses are caused by bacteria and viruses. These require powerful antibiotics and antiretroviral medications. You may choose to have your doctor not administer these to you if you happen to find yourself in need of them.
Comfort (Palliative) Care
Some terminal conditions require extra comfort over and above the normal treatment approaches. These are referred to as comfort or palliative care. You may yet again choose to relinquish these from your terminal healthcare.
Organ and Tissue Donation
Would you wish to have your tissues or organs donated after your passing? If you desire so, this is document accords you a good chance to do just that. You may state the organ you would want to be donated to a third party.
Complete Body Donation Other than specific portions of your body, you may as well recommend that your whole body be donated to a medical research firm for the purposes of advancing the medical field.
Free Living Will Forms (by States)
Free Living Will Form
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Q1. Must you have an advanced health care directive to stop treatment near the end of your life?
A. NOT really! Treatment may be halted in case all parties agree. This notwithstanding, it is still important to have this will in place to eliminate any ambiguity and iron out any grey area.
Q2. Is an ‘advance directive’ the same as ‘do not treat?’
A. Not necessarily! It all depends on what you decide. You may opt to restrain your doctor from doing so or expressly instruct them to do so. Even in the absence of this document, healthcare practitioners are mandated to do whatever they can to keep you in a state of complete comfort.
Q3. In the event that I name a healthcare proxy, do I give up the right to make my own decisions?
A. Naming a healthcare proxy does not wrest this authority to make independent decisions away from you. This right is inalienable and even empowers you to override any decision which the proxy might make on your behalf.
Q4. Should I wait until I am certain about what I want before signing an advance directive?
A. You need not necessarily wait because this will may be changed from time to time and as need be. Never shy away from making this decision in the first place hence.
Q5. Is the advance directive only for elderly persons?
A. Nothing could be further from the truth. Younger people have a lot more at stake than their elderly counterparts. They are more likely to survive a terminal illness and have many more years to live.