Vermont Rules on Living Wills

by Bernadette A. Safrath

The Vermont statutes set forth the state's requirements for an advance health care directive. Advance directives used to be called durable powers of attorney for health care, living wills, or terminal care documents -- and at times, they still are. An advance directive allows you to determine the kinds of medical treatment you do or do not want should you ever become terminally ill or critically injured. It is also a power of attorney that allows you to select an agent to make those decisions for you if you are ever unable to communicate your wishes to your physician.

Document Requirements

If you're over 18 and mentally competent, you should complete your advance directive in such a way that your agent and your physician know exactly what should be done in the case of illness or injury. You should decide if you want extreme measures and artificial treatments, such as a respirator or feeding tube, to keep you alive. The advance directive must be in writing and you must sign it in the presence of two witnesses. Your witnesses cannot be anyone you named as your agent or alternate agent, nor can they be your spouse, parents, siblings or children. The Vermont Department of Health can store your advance directive in an online registry.

Agents

You can choose anyone you trust to serve as your agent, except your physician or any employee from a residential health care facility in which you live. The appointed agent is not authorized to act until you are incapacitated and unable to do so for yourself. The agent is required to authorize treatment or the withholding of treatment in accordance with your wishes. If your advance directive is silent on anything, the agent should make decisions based on what he believes you would want.

Revoking or Changing an Advance Directive

You can revoke your living will, or advance directive, by tearing it up and destroying it, or by signing a written statement revoking it. You can also ask your doctor to revoke it. Vermont law permits a person to revoke his advance directive, or living will, orally. However, like the initial signing, revoking it should take place in the presence of two witnesses, who should not be either an appointed agent or an immediate family member. If you wish to change an advance directive or change your agent, it is best to write a new directive, noting that you have revoked the old one, have it witnessed, and give it to all the people who had the old one.

Physician's Responsibilities

A physician must follow a patient's wishes as set forth in the advance directive, or living will. A physician who is unwilling to perform or withhold any treatment, as directed by the advance directive, or living will, is required to locate a willing physician and have the patient transferred to that physician's care. As long as the physician "actively assists" in the patient's transfer, there will be no liability for failing to follow the living will.