Advance Directives - Living Will

We were discussing advance directives that everyone should have—the Durable Power of Attorney and the Living Will. Part One described the Durable Power of Attorney. Now we are going to talk about a Living Will.

The National Institute on Aging says, “A living will records your end-of-life care wishes in case you are no longer able to speak for yourself. You might want to talk with your doctor or other health care provider before preparing a living will. That way you will have a better understanding of what types of decisions might need to be made. Make sure your doctor and family have seen your living will and understand your instructions.”

What exactly does it mean by “end-of-life care wishes?” This can be as simple as only discussing what measures can be taken to prolong your life, but could include anything you want. Do you want heroic measures taken to prolong your life? Do you want to be hooked to a respirator or other medical equipment? Do you want the family to gather around you? Do you want your dog to be with someone special? A Living Will is there to speak for you in the event you can’t.

One man in a community of a company for which I was working was unable to speak. He was at that time at the end of his life wherein he was alive, but just barely. His religious beliefs required a surrounding with candles and soft lighting. The family requested it, but the community where he was at the time didn’t want this because they thought it was a fire hazard. There wasn’t a living will, but balancing the dangers with the desires, I thought it best to allow this family that honor.

My own father had end of life decisions and threatened us if we countermanded any of the orders he had given. There wasn’t anything he could have done about it, but we honored his desires. Most people will, and that’s why hospitals and long-term care centers ask about living wills.

A living will is not an easy subject to talk about. Not everyone can say, “Hey, listen, if I am about to die and can’t tell you, I want you to take me to Colorado to see the Rocky Mountains one more time.” Or, “Don’t let them put any tubes in my body.” The problem occurs when someone can’t say it. You might remember the lawsuit a few years back wherein the parents wanted extraordinary measures taken to prolong the life of their daughter, but the husband wanted to allow her to die. I had a stroke a couple of years ago and couldn’t talk. If that would have persisted, some of the things I would want to say, I could not have said.

Living Wills are very personal and using a form won’t accomplish what most people would like to say. Talk to your doctor or your lawyer and tell them what you might or might not want to happen in the event you can’t say it. My kids will want me to say which one of them gets my old Martin Guitar. They will have to wait and see.

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