A living will is a legal document that lets a person decide in advance what kind of medical treatment he/she does and does not want if he/she become physically or mentally unable to make decisions or communicate his/her wishes. Also called a Directive to Physicians or Healthcare Directive, it is a type of advance directive. Although a living will is typically used to reject heroic lifesaving measures to prolong life, such as intravenous feeding and mechanical respirators when the patient is dying, it can also be used to request thatall available medical treatment be used. A living will can be general or specific, but it is limited because the manner of death cannot be anticipated andmedical technology changes rapidly. It is called a living will because it isa will that is used while the person is still alive.
In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the use of living wills. A living will creates a contract with the attending doctor. When the doctor receives theliving will, he/she must honor its instructions or turn the patient's care over to another doctor who will do so. A person who has drafted a living willshould make sure that his/her family, lawyer, and doctor know about it. A living will relieves family and friends from having to make tough decisions about actions to prolong a loved one's life. It can be changed or canceled at anytime. Every state recognizes a patient's right to make choices about healthcare and treatment, but state laws about living wills are different. A livingwill can be drafted without an attorney, but it is important to make sure that it conforms with the state's requirements, including the proper signaturesand witnesses. Some states require that certain forms be used for a living will.
A living will does not let a person name someone to make medical decisions for him/her. Many people combine a living will with a durable power of attorneyfor health care. A durable power of attorney for health care lets the personselect someone to make health care decisions for him/her if he/she becomes incapacitated and gives that person the legal authority to make those decisions. Depending on what state a person lives in, it may be better to have a living will, a durable power of attorney for health care, or both. Having both documents provides maximum protection for the many medical situations which could arise and require difficult decisions. Decisions on medical care for a person who does not have a living will or durable power of attorney for health care are made by doctors. If there are questions, the doctors will ask a closerelative for consent. If relatives disagree about the decision, the case would wind up in court and be decided by a judge.