Through advances in medical technology, some patients who formerly would have died can now be kept alive by artificial means. Sometimes a patient may desire such treatment because it is a temporary measure potentially leading to the restoration of health. At other times, such treatment may be undesirable because it may only prolong the process of dying rather than restore the patient to an acceptable quality of life.
In any case, each person is seen, under the law, as having the personal right to decide whether to institute, continue or terminate such treatment. As long as a patient is mentally competent, he or she can be consulted about desired treatment. When a patient has lost the capacity to communicate, however, the situation is different.
A living will usually provides specific directives about the course of treatment that is to be followed by health care providers and caregivers. In some cases a living will may forbid the use of various kinds of burdensome medical treatment.
It may also be used to express wishes about the use or foregoing of food and water, if supplied via tubes or other medical devices. The living will is only used if the individual has become unable to give informed consent or refusal due to incapacity.
A living will can be very specific or very general.
More specific living wills may include information regarding an individual’s desire for such services such as analgesia (pain relief), antibiotics, hydration, feeding, and the use of ventilators or cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
The requirements for a living will vary by state so you may want to have a lawyer prepare your living will. Many lawyers who practice in the area of estate planning include a living will and a health care power of attorney in their package of estate planning documents.