Doctors are responsible for treating and, sometimes, saving the lives of their patients. However, everyday doctors treat patients who are terminally ill and in immense pain who want to die naturally despite a doctor’s ability to keep them alive using medical equipment and medication. If a patient tells their doctor they do not want to be kept alive through artificial means, a doctor is obligated to follow the patient’s wishes. However, frequently, a patient is either unconscious or so ill that he or she cannot communicate to the doctor his or her wishes.
A living will is meant for situations like these. A living will, or an advanced directive, is a document that clearly communicates your intentions to health care professionals concerning the use of medical equipment to keep your alive in the event you are incapacitated and unable to communicate. It tells the health care professionals, as well as your friends and family, the life-sustaining treatment you want — or don’t want. It is called a living will because it can take effect while you are alive.
Terri Schiavo Case
At the conclusion of 2005, the case of Terri Schiavo brought much attention and served as an important reminder why all adults should have a living will — including younger adults. While in her 20’s, Terri suffered from a heart attack and could not communicate to her family or healthcare professionals. This turned into a decade long legal battle between Terri’s husband and her parents concerning whether or not life-sustaining treatment should be withdrawn. If Terri had a living will, this divisive and lengthy legal battle could have been avoided.
Living wills are extremely beneficial documents, however, some people delay making a living will because the subject is hard to think about, or because they think they may later change their mind about life support measures. It is important to keep in mind:
- Everyone one will die and, with a living will, difficult life-support decisions are inevitable for more people and their families. Having a living will spares your loved ones with having to make a difficult decision.
- A living will is only effective if you cannot communicate; if you can, you will express your intentions.
- You can always change, amend, or revoked a living will.
- Living wills give you a lot of flexibility in terms of stating your wishes and instructions. For example, you can say whether you want certain types of equipment, medications or artificial nutrition or hydration to be used or not used, and you can say that life-support equipment should be used only for a certain time.
When To Make A Living Will
As Terri Schiavo’s case demonstrates, terminal illness and incapacity can happen suddenly and without any advanced notice. Therefore, it is highly advisable to prepare a living will immediately. It will ensure that if you are incapacitated, your wishes regarding the use of life-sustaining treatment will be followed and your family will not have to make the difficult decision for you.
How To Make A Living Will
There are specific legal requirements for making a living will. These requirements vary from state to state, but they typically include a requirement of a certain number of witnesses as well as who can serve as a witness. Generally speaking, a living will that is prepared in one state will be valid in other states.
Additionally, once a person makes a living will, he or she should ensure that it is placed in their medical records so all treating professionals are aware of its existence and terms.
Living wills are extremely useful planning tools. They will make sure your wishes regarding the use of life-sustaining equipment are followed if you are ever unable to communicate and this is an issue for you. Laws about making living wills are complex, so it is important to seek legal help in making one. For more information about living wills and help in preparing one, please call us.
Contact an attorney at Triscaro & Associates today. Please call us for all your legal needs. We offer a full range of legal services to individuals, families and businesses, including personal injury, estate planning, real estate, family law and business matters. We are dedicated to providing the highest quality legal services at a reasonable cost.