How Living Wills Work

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The concept of living wills may not be very clear to a number of people. Some may even equate it with the “last will and testament”, which is a totally different type of legal document. In point of fact, a living will is more analogous to a “power of attorney”.

Its primary purpose is to make it possible for you – the maker or owner – to formulate decisions in advance with regard to medical treatment or life support, and lawfully command the health care team to carry out your wishes in that regard.

Because of the presence of numerous advances in the field of medicine and health care, doctors are now capable of sustaining life – even if it means being in a permanently vegetative condition. This is one of the reasons why living wills have become such a necessity.

Not all people actually like the idea of remaining in an almost lifeless state for an indefinite period of time. More often than not, the notion of extending life even when death is just round the corner seems excruciating for both the family and the patient. It’s like one way of prolonging the suffering.

A living will makes it possible for you to decide whether life-sustaining measures and medical treatment should be continued or withheld. The directive may also include the refusal to take artificial feeding. Aside from that, you may even express other specific wishes before you become incapacitated to make decisions for your health care.

In order for the living will to be legally binding, the appropriate form must be utilized and it must be accomplished in conformity with the state laws on the subject of living wills. A number of states require the presence and signatures of two valid witnesses, the attendance of a Notary Public, or both.

In case the living will form necessitates the appointment of a patient advocate, he or she must not be any of the two witnesses. Your advocate should carry the burden of deciding for your health care and medical treatment in the unfortunate event of your incapacity to make the decision for yourself.

This person is also known as a health care representative. He or she may be a spouse, a daughter or son, a family member, a friend, or any significant person that you absolutely trust.

In essence, a living will becomes effective when the creator is no longer capable of making decisions with regard to medical treatment. It may be in the face of a terminal illness, permanent unconsciousness or coma, inability to communicate, mental incapacity, or vegetative condition.

In the event of any of these situations, the health care provider – a hospital, a hospice, or a nursing home – must be provided with a copy of the advance directive. The instructions contained within the legal document will serve as the basis for the continuation or withdrawal of medical treatment and other life-sustaining procedures.

The health care team, specifically the attending physicians, is legally bound to follow the directives indicated on a living will. However, although it is considered a legal document, the maker may revoke or change the contents of the will provided that it is carried out prior to becoming debilitated.

On top of that, the proper procedures for the revocation of living wills should be followed to make the act official.

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