Reasons for Having a Living Will

by Dennis Masino
A living will expresses your health care wishes.

A living will expresses your health care wishes.

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It is not unusual to fear becoming too sick or injured to express your wishes concerning your medical treatment to your doctors and loved ones. While doctors and medical personnel are trained and committed to saving lives, not allowing them to end, you may not want doctors to use extraordinary means, such as artificial respiration or tube feeding, to keep you alive in a vegetative state. A living will is a legal document that provides individuals a means by which to express their wishes regarding medical treatment if they become unable to make their own medical decisions. Each state has its own laws governing the format, signing formalities and legal effect of a living will. Consider using an Internet document preparation website to prepare your living will according to your state's laws.

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Peace of Mind

A living will gives you the peace of mind of knowing that no one will perform medical procedures or forms of treatment that you consider objectionable. However, some states do not recognize a living will for emergency treatment provided by an emergency medical technician, or EMT, when a doctor is not present. Some of those states do, however, authorize an EMT to honor a properly signed patient DNR, or do not resuscitate, order or a DNR bracelet.

Supplement to a Medical Power of Attorney

Many states recognize either a health care proxy or medical power of attorney as the method by which a person can designate another individual to make health care decisions for him in the event that he is too sick or injured to communicate his wishes to health care providers. A living will helps ensure that the decisions the designated agent makes conform to the wishes of the patient.

Avoids Family Conflict

Conflicts may arise among family members when a person is too sick or injured to communicate with them. If no one was granted a medical power of attorney or health care proxy to make decisions, disagreements may arise within the family about whether a doctor should use extraordinary methods or procedures to sustain a person's life. The living will can eliminate such disagreements by providing family members with a clearly written expression of the patient's wishes concerning such issues as artificial respiration and resuscitation, pain medications, and artificial hydration and nutrition.

Helps in Court Proceedings

Absent a designated agent who can make health care decisions, or a valid living will, a doctor who cannot communicate with her patient will take whatever steps are medically necessary to sustain the patient's life in life-threatening situations. In other situations, such as ongoing treatment, when the doctor is unsure of the level or type of treatment to provide a patient, a court order might be necessary to determine the measures the doctor should take. In states where a living will is not legally binding on the doctor, the court making the decision can at least refer to the living will to ascertain the wishes of the patient.