Types of Conditions
There are several types of situations that may be covered in a living will. Some state laws refer to only one situation, while others include two or more. The following is a brief explanation of these situations, including where problems occur in the language adopted by each state.
In some states, a terminal condition may be called a terminal illness or terminal injury, and may also be accompanied by further language in an attempt to clearly describe the situation. In many forms, you will find language to the effect that the condition must be incurable or irreversible, or that death must be likely to occur "within a relatively short period of time." In most cases, there is no definition of what constitutes a relatively short period of time, and in practice, this is left to the doctors to determine.
It is advisable to use forms that are similar to those approved by your state, as they will probably be quickly recognized and followed by doctors and hospitals.
A person in a coma who is not likely to recover consciousness is generally described as being in a state of permanent unconsciousness. This may also be called a persistent vegetative state, being permanently comatose, having permanent loss of the ability to communicate concerning medical treatment decisions, or similar language. Under some state laws, the language appears to also require the person's condition to be terminal, while in other states, permanent unconsciousness is a sufficient basis on which to invoke the living will—even if the person's condition is not terminal.
Where the Burdens of Treatment Outweigh the Benefits
Only a few states allow as a basis for invoking a living will a condition in which the burdens of treatment outweigh the benefits. This basis does not require a terminal condition.