Living Will Choices

Living Will Choices

In its most basic form, a living will says, "If I become terminally ill or injured, I do not want any artificial means used that will only delay my death." This is still the basic language used by many of the states that have created living will forms. The use of these forms is optional in most states. Over the years, more issues have arisen, resulting in slightly more complex language being used. These issues include:

  • conditions of permanent unconsciousness, irreversible coma, or when death is not imminent;
  • conditions in which the burdens of treatment outweigh the expected benefits, but death is not imminent;
  • distinctions between various types of medical procedures;
  • providing food and water through feeding tubes or intravenously;
  • alternative provisions or exceptions if the person is pregnant;
  • organ donations; and,
  • covering the situation in which a person does want all possible measures taken to preserve life.

The types of provisions governing living wills vary by state and have been included in the language approved by some states. These choices are discussed more fully in the sections that follow.

  • Introduction to Living Wills
    Modern life support systems can keep an individual's body alive for years, even if that person has no brain activity or is in constant pain. As competent adults, we have a constitutional right to make decisions about whether or not we want life support to continue when death is imminent or when a...
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  • Definition of a Living Will
    A living will is a document that outlines specific medical instructions to be applied if you are alive but are unable to communicate your wishes for yourself. Unlike last wills, they have nothing to do with property division after your death. Rather, they state that you do (or do not) want...
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  • Healthcare Power of Attorney
    A healthcare agent is a person whom you are trusting to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can't make them for yourself. Choosing your agent is an important decision, and you should think carefully about who you want to assume this responsibility. This person may one day be deciding...
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  • Revoking or Canceling a Living Will
    A living will can be canceled or revoked at any time. The revocation is effective when you (or someone else who witnessed your revocation) communicate it to your attending physician or healthcare provider. You can also cancel your living will by destroying it or by indicating, in writing, that it...
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  • Witnesses to a Living Will
    Because of the gravity of the decisions associated with a living will and the potential severity of the results, a living will must be witnessed by individuals who can swear that the document reflects the maker's wishes. These witnesses must be independent, and can't have an interest in receiving...
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  • Pregnancy and Living Wills
    Most state laws will not let you (or someone acting on your behalf) refuse life-extending medical procedures if you are pregnant. In such cases, your living will can be disregarded, unless there is no chance the fetus will survive.    
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