A living will refer to a legal document that allows individuals to state their wishes when it comes to end-of-life medical care. To make your medical care wishes clear in case of severe illness, you can utilize two separate legal forms known as advance directives. The initial document is the living will, which is a document that tells the doctors the kind of care you would like to receive towards the end of your life. The other form is known as a health care power of attorney, a document that names your medical care agent.
A Living Will usually contains some specific instructions for your medical care, whereas a Medical Power of Attorney assigns someone to make relevant medical decisions on your behalf. A living will focus mainly on end-of-life medical care. A medical Power of Attorney is appointed to make decisions for you if you cannot make decisions for yourself, for instance, if a decision has to be made when you are undergoing a surgical operation.
What is a living will?
A living will form normally indicates whether or not you would like to stay on life support in case of terminal illness and will pass on shortly even without life support, or enter into a permanent vegetative state. The document also addresses many other important questions, explaining in detail your preferences for artificial hydration, tube feeding, and pain medication in specific circumstances. A living will only become effective when you are unable to communicate your medical care wishes on your own.
While it can be difficult to think about the situations and decisions involved in a living will, it’s a document that all adults can benefit from. Individuals who are about to have a surgical procedure, or those living with terminal illnesses should consider completing a living will come as soon as possible.
If you don’t have a living will and in the course of your illness you become incapacitated and cannot make your own choices, your doctors will turn to your close family members for health care decisions. That can put a heavy burden on the family members and might also cause some rifts within your family if there’s a disagreement. Your family might not know your medical wishes or, feel hesitant about what they should do.
Possible end-of-life care decisions you should discuss in your living will
End-of-life decisions can be difficult to make. That’s because you will not only have to think carefully about your demise, but there are also legal and medical decisions that are not easy to make. If you need help when making your end-of-life decisions, you can ask your family, friends, and physicians for assistance. Some of the decisions you should highlight in your living will include:
• Antibiotics and pain medications
Antibiotics can be used in the treatment of a range of infections, and the pain meds will relieve you from pain. You should indicate whether or not you would like physicians to use these medications.
• Breathing machine
A ventilator or a breathing machine pushes air into the lungs to assist you in breathing. You might need it for a short duration until you can easily breathe again on your own. However, you might need it for a longer duration in some cases like an injury to the spine.
Dialysis removes all the waste from the blood and also manages the levels of fluids if your kidneys are no longer functioning. Decide if you would like to get this treatment and for how long.
Doctors use cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your breathing or heart stops. This method works pretty well when you are in good health, and somebody begins it right away. But if you are very ill, it may not work. Determine when and if you would like to be resuscitated using a CPR to stimulate your heart.
• Feeding tube
If you are unable to drink or eat on your own, the doctors might consider using a feeding tube to provide your body with nutrients. Decide if, for how long and when you would like to be fed using this method.
• Palliative care
Palliative care, also known as comfort care includes a wide range of interventions that might be used to manage your pain and keep you comfortable while abiding by any other treatment wishes you want. These interventions might include getting some pain medications, avoiding invasive tests and treatments as well as being allowed to die peacefully at home.
• Organ donation
You should also consider whether or not you would like to donate your organs and body tissues. Regardless of how you decide, it’s advisable to let your family and loved ones know about your choice so they can also support your decision and wishes.
How to make a living will?
A living will allows you to make your wishes known about future medical treatments and end-of-life care for the duration you are unable to communicate your wishes. However, a living will comply with the right laws in the state where they are written. Here is a step-by-step guide you should follow when drafting a living will.
• Think carefully about what you want
You should express your wishes about your medical care if you are terminally ill. Think about your preferences when it comes to artificial hydration and nourishment, as well as specific medical procedures you wouldn’t want. Remember that all the decisions you put in this form for your end-of-life care are the final decisions.
• Consider your end-of-life alternatives
Would you like to be resuscitated to stimulate your heart? Would you like artificial nourishment and hydration? Do you only want palliative care like pain medications? Also, consider including your wishes for cremation or your funeral.
• Pick your agent
An agent is an individual you appoint to ensure that all your last wishes are followed. The agent will also make medical and end-of-life decisions that you didn’t mention in the living will. The person makes those choices for you with your best interest and what they believe you would want in mind.
• Making a living will a legal document
A living will only become a legal document once you append your signature. Many states also demand that the form be signed by around two witnesses, while others require it to get notarized.
Free Living Will Forms (Advance Directives)
• Should I have an active living will to terminate end-of-life treatment?
Treatment can be stopped without a Living Will if everyone involved agrees. However, without an advance directive, decisions may be more difficult and dispute more likely.
• Does an advance directive mean no treatment?
An advance directive states both what an individual want and what they don’t want when it comes to end-of-life care, which means it does not eliminate the treatment option. Nevertheless, if you don’t want any curative treatment, you should be kept comfortable and pain-free at all times.
• Will I lose the right to make my medical decisions when i choose a health care agent?
You do not lose your authority to make your health care decisions when you choose a health care agent or proxy. As long as you are sober and competent, you have the right to revoke that directive and also override any decisions made by your agent.
• Am I supposed to wait until I know what I want before completing a living will?
You don’t have to wait until you are certain of what you want before signing a living will. That’s because there are many complications surrounding end-of-life treatment. It’s also impossible to predict all the circumstances and facts that you might encounter in the future, which mean treatment wishes can change with time.
• Are advance directives meant for older people only?
Advance directives are not intended for older adults alone but every person who is 18 years of age and above. That’s because young adults are at high risk, because, in case of car accidents or a serious illness, medical technology might keep them alive on life support for decades, which can bring a huge financial burden on their families.