An advance directive such as a living will and others is a written, legal document outlining instructions on medical care preferences if the testator cannot make decisions for the self. It essentially guides physicians and caregivers through terminal illness, serious injury, coma, dementia, or end of life.
Living wills or advance healthcare directives are not solely for aged adults or individuals with medical conditions. End-of-life situations can happen unexpectedly at any stage in life, so it might be helpful for every adult to consider drawing up a living will.
What Is a Living Will?
A living will is a legally binding document that stipulates the kind of medical care that an individual-the testator-wants to have done if they are incapacitated to articulate their wishes. The testato usually prepares this document in anticipation of terminal illness or serious, life-threatening accidents.
When a patient is unconscious for whatever causes, hospitals, doctors, and other caregivers will consult the living will, if available, to identify which interventions they can provide. A living will guides medical practitioners on whether an incapacitated person wishes to receive life-sustaining treatment such as ventilators, tube feeding, or major surgeries. If a living will is unavailable, the health care facility must consult with the spouse, next-of-kin, or a healthcare proxy on all medical care decisions.
Living wills are only activated in cases of near-death or life-threatening illness and the patient cannot specify their desired treatment. A living will is not applicable for non-emergent situations or regular medical consultations.
Living Will and Last Will: What’s The Difference?
While many can confuse the two terms, a living will is different from a last will. Though both are, broadly, legal documents that stipulate end-of-life wishes, they manage various aspects of an individual’s affairs.
Alast willspecifies who (or whom) you choose to inherit your properties or assets after your death. Additionally, a last will might also establish a schedule for the disbursement of assets. In contrast, a living will specifies healthcare directives in the event an individual is unable to signify their wishes to physicians or hospitals and their loved ones.
What’s in a Living Will?
Should you decide to execute a living will, you should consider several potentially appropriate medical treatments for end-of-life events. It might be done best in consultation with your physician, especially if you have an existing medical condition. Include instructions related to the following:
- Medications.If you have infections, antibiotics or antiviral medicines are used to treat these. Specify the duration you wish to receive medications, how much dosage you want to receive, or if you wish to receive medications at all.
- Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (or CPR).This procedure revives the heart’s functions. Will you want your heart resuscitated by CPR or automated external defibrillators?
- Ventilator.Mechanical ventilators assist or assume your breathing if you’re no longer able to breathe on your own. Specify the duration you want to be placed on a ventilator or if you wish to use it at all.
- Dialysis.This procedure extricates waste from your blood and manages fluid in place of failing kidneys. Specify the duration you want to undergo dialysis or if you wish to receive this intervention at all.
- Tube Feeding.This will supply your body with fluid nourishment intravenously through an NGT (nasogastric tube), or a tube through the stomach. Specify the duration you would want to receive feedings or if you wish to receive feedings at all.
- Comfort Care. Palliative care services include interventions that might be used to manage pain or keep you comfortable in the course of your desired treatment. If you opt to receive comfort care, specify the duration, the limitations to the kind of comfort care you want to receive, or if you wish to receive this type of care at all. This might include, but is not limited to, receiving pain medications, refusing invasive treatment such as surgery, being transferred to hospice care, or even being allowed to go home to die.
- Organ Donation.If you wish to donate your organs or tissues after you pass, you might be kept on life-support until the extraction is completed. Specify in your living will that you understand the need for necessary temporary interventions if you wish to donate your viable organs.
A living will is a legal advance directive articulating the type and level of medical intervention you wish to receive in the event of incapacity due to illness or injury. It addresses several end-of-life treatments like CPR, dialysis, mechanical ventilators, and others. But more than just ensuring your future wishes are carried out, living wills help you and your family prepare and ensure more peace of mind for your loved ones.