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Information on why and when you would need a Living Will and how to prepare one.

Purpose Of A Living Will

Of all the Senior issues, this seems to be the most emotional, complex and controversial.  It's a problem born of our great medical success.  Our medical understanding and technological ability enables us to keep a person's body alive long after they're done with it.  As recently as 100 years ago, we couldn't keep someone's heart and lungs working without the help of the brain.  Now, we can feed a person for decades after they're unable to feed themselves.  These medical marvels are wonderful for saving lives.  Unfortunately, these breakthroughs have a frightening down side.  They can be used to prolong death from a process that takes a few days at most to months and even years.  People who will not get well, who have lived their lives and are ready to go are being kept alive by grieving loved ones and by medical laws that lean toward doing everything to prolong life even when there is no hope of healing.  So, what do we do?  Enter the Living Will, or Advance Directive.  For more information, here are the latest top-selling books on the purpose and uses for a living will.

Why Have A Living Will?  In 2004, there was a great debate over this issue that left both sides with a sinking feeling that they needed a document directing those in the health care profession in the event they couldn't speak for themselves.  Terry Sciavo had a medical problem at around age 25 that landed her on a feeding tube for more than a decade.  Her husband and parents disagreed whether she should continue or have the tube removed.  Because she left no directive to state her wishes, the fight went to the courts, to Congress and, eventually, after many $ millions had been spent, they directed her feeding tube removed.  She died within a couple weeks.  This isn't to take one side or another, just to stress the importance of a living will.  You must place directions for what to do when you can't speak for yourself or you can put those you love into a decade long struggle with each other and with the health care establishment.

Purpose Of A Living Will:   A living will gives you some say in the medical decisions that must be made while you can't respond.  If Terry Sciavo had a Living Will that stated in the proper legal fashion, she wanted all live-saving and life-sustaining measures used to prolong her life, the results may have been very different for her.  But, who thinks of this stuff when they're 25?  If you're looking at the last years of your life, as your abilities are diminishing, your living will could say something entirely different.  Let's say you're in a situation where a stroke has left your 70 year old body in a "persistent vegetative state".  After the experts have said there's little hope and they've waited an appropriate amount of time for a miracle, do you want them to keep you hooked up to a feeding tube, charging your family $ 5-10,000 per month, for the years it may take for your heart to stop?  If your heart does stop in this situation, do you want them to take all heroic measures to restart it?  These are the kinds of issues you need to answer in your living will so your loved ones won't have to guess, or worse, so they won't have to sue to get your verbal wishes followed.  No one can answer these questions for you...everyone is different.  Your answers will probably be very different at age 60 than at age 75, so, you make the decisions for now and look at the document every couple years to make sure your situation and desires haven't changed.

What Is A Living Will?  A living will is the formal document that states your wishes for specific health care decisions to be made for you in the event you are unable to express them yourself.  I strongly recommend this be prepared by a lawyer who is licensed in your home State.  As fast as laws change, you don't want to use downloadable boiler-plate fill-in forms just to find out these are not followed once you need it.  Along the same lines, once you have one, use it instead of completing other forms on the spot in your doctor's office or hospital.  The only thing worse than having two conflicting relatives is having two conflicting forms signed by you.  Just put on their form "see attached Living Will" and tell them to staple it to the form.  You should be as specific as possible, trying to take into consideration at least the major variables.  Many recommend at least 2 doctors make the same diagnosis (such as permanent vegetative state) with none disagreeing, before life support is to be removed.  It wouldn't be bad to define what you think is a reasonable time for an "act of God" before life support is removed.  Of course, He's welcome to act afterwards, too.  Considering what life saving measures are to be used to restart your heart, you may want to define the circumstances under which they are or are not to be used.  Maybe you would want to be resuscitated unless you're in the final stages of an incurable disease, for instance.  Once all your directives have been written, the document is dated, signed by you and notarized.  Usually, this document designates someone (and alternates) you are empowering to carry out your wishes.  If not, it should be accompanied by a Power Of Attorney for health care decisions.  See our page What Is Power Of Attorney? for more information.  This way, you have someone formally entrusted to decide those issues you were unable to foresee.  Copies of your Living Will and Power Of Attorney forms should be kept on file at your doctor's offices.  Those you named to act in your behalf should have the signed originals in a safe deposit box so they can make copies as needed.

Finally, this is a difficult and frightening thing to think about.  I find myself, at age 51, unsure under what circumstances I want what measures to be taken.  If you find yourself in this situation, you could use the power of attorney and give verbal instructions as you see situations in real life.  This isn't the best, but it's better than nothing.  Rest assured, no matter what happens, there is Someone looking out for you who has only your best interest at heart.  That someone is God.  He loves you and wants you to spend forever with Him.  If you want His help, click on God Help Me.

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