The Law Concerning Living Wills
The basics of the law concerning living wills is fairly simple. By signing a living will, you are telling your family, friends, doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers what type of health care you want (or do not want) in certain situations.
The basic reason for having a living will is so a third party—usually a doctor or hospital—will perform your wishes if you become terminally ill, injured or permanently unconscious. The concern of the doctor is that he or she may be held liable, either civilly or criminally, for not performing a medical procedure that some could argue would have allowed you to live longer. Many states have passed laws that allow a doctor to honor a living will without being subject to any liability. These laws also provide that other people may rely on your wishes as expressed in your living will and will not be legally responsible for honoring those wishes.
Example: You state in your living will that you do not want artificial life support procedures used if your condition is terminal. Your doctor will not be subject to a lawsuit by your estate or family for discontinuing life support procedures. Without a living will, the doctor or hospital may be reluctant to discontinue such artificial life support procedures.
Even if you have a living will, it is important that you discuss your wishes with your spouse, family members or friends, so that someone is fully aware of how you feel. This may help resolve any disputes that may arise about your wishes regarding your medical care.
Some states have laws that authorize certain family members to make these life and death health care decisions even without a living will. However, it will probably be easier for your family members to make such decisions if they are certain how you feel about the subject. A living will can clearly express your desires.