Living Wills: More Than Just a Document
A living will is an entirely different document than a last will and testament. A living will is a legal document that tells healthcare providers how to handle your care should you be unable to communicate or make decisions about emergency treatment. These instructions are called advance directives.
A living will only be followed if a medical professional decides that you lack the ability to speak for yourself about life-sustaining treatment. If, for example, you do not want to be resuscitated in case of a severe stroke or heart attack and you are unable to express your wishes, a living will can guide the medical staff to follow the directives you have chosen. Without a living will, your care choices can be dictated by others.
While a traditional will provides information regarding the transfer of financial assets after you die, a living will communicates which (if any) medical treatments should be performed in order to extend your life.
Why Would Someone Refuse Treatment That Would Extend Their Life?
Some people do not believe that life should be extended at all costs. They might feel that “their time has come,” and they may feel that death is a natural occurrence that should not be delayed or interrupted by medical procedures. Some may be so ill that they believe any attempted treatment would ultimately be futile. Some may believe that emergency resuscitation, for example, might just prolong a life already damaged by terminal disease and pain. Regardless of the reason for refusing certain treatments, a living will is the document that allows a patient’s treatment guidelines to be followed.
Treatment Types Covered in a Living Will Document
Many remember the heart-wrenching scene when National Football League Player Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest. Hamlin was successfully resuscitated on the football field and was able to return to his previous activities. Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) was performed. There are consequences of CPR, as the chest compressions necessary to make the process work can break ribs. Sometimes, electronic defibrillators are part of the CPR process. While CPR may work well for a younger person, it can be less effective with older, chronically ill, or terminally ill adults.
Ventilator use was frequently discussed during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. A ventilator is a medical machine that forces air into the lungs of a person who cannot breathe. Intubation is the process of inserting a breathing tube down a person’s throat. This procedure can be very uncomfortable, and ventilator patients many times need to be sedated. Long-term sedation can cause muscles to atrophy and patients sometimes face a long and arduous recovery period after a ventilator has been removed.
Irregular heart rhythm is a common condition that can be treated. When a heart beats irregularly, it can lead to cardiac arrest and death. An irregularly beating heart can be shocked back into a normal rhythm with a manual electronic defibrillator. Persons can also have an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). This is a device that, when permanently inserted into the chest, detects an abnormal heart rhythm and automatically shocks the heart back to normal rhythm. A person with an ICD who is reaching the end stage of life may no longer need the ICD, and advance directives can explain further steps after a healthcare provider suggests that the ICD should be disabled.
If a person can no longer eat or drink, artificial hydration and nutrition can be delivered through a feeding tube. It might be inserted through the nose, or if needed for a long time period, the tube might be surgically inserted into the abdomen. While artificial nutrition and hydration can be helpful in many cases, if the natural end of life is imminent, artificial nutrition and hydration may not necessarily extend life.
Other Living Will Provisions
Some may wish to have their organs, brain, and other tissue donated to others in need or to science for study. Others may not want their bodies to be altered in any way after death. A living will can address these concerns and direct providers to follow the patient’s wishes.
Living Will Considerations
Medical science and practices can extend life, but many are concerned that an artificially extended life might not be a quality life. A person may survive a life-threatening stroke because life-saving measures were successful. If the survivor was subsequently confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak, and required a feeding tube, many would not consider that a proper life. While some might want to live in any state, others may want to refuse medical procedures that could leave them in a lessened state, and a living will is the proper vehicle to express and direct one’s emergency medical treatment desires.
Consult Your Team
Those receiving Medicare are offered an annual wellness visit where their physician can be consulted about end-of-life issues. If high blood pressure that can lead to a stroke is a medical issue, the patient can have a frank discussion with their physician about the possible effects of a stroke and the medical condition that can result. The doctor can explain and help the patient understand end-of-life choices that need to be included in a living will.
Consult an Estate Planning Law Firm
Your estate planning attorney will gather all of your information and make sure that your wishes and directives are clearly and legally stated in your living will document. Some important points to cover will be:
- When should resuscitation occur?
- Should life be prolonged to the greatest extent?
- What treatments should be considered?
Patients have the right to determine the type of health care they want. NBMS Law PC’s living will experts are here to help you create a living will that will accurately and legally describe your medical directives. Savvy persons understand that homemade or online fill-in forms may not be the best way to create a living will and that the services of an experienced and quality law firm like NBMS Law PC are required in order to produce a quality and accurate living will. Contact NBMS Law, P.C., and begin the living will process today.