Not many people want to talk life and death decisions, but the time may come when we need someone to speak for us, and carry out our wishes. If you don’t want to be forced to linger on when there is no hope, you need to have an advance directive telling family and healthcare professionals what you want done and what you don’t want done. I believe everyone should have a living will.
A living will is part of an advance directive. An advance directive includes a living will and the medical power of attorney. (In order for your living will to be carried out the way you want it to, you must choose a medical power of attorney.) You get to decide in advance what you would like done in a crisis situation, should you not be able to make your own decisions. We normally think of senior citizens, when we think of living wills, but anyone age 18 or over can write a living will.
To have your wishes carried out you give medical power of attorney (POA)-also called durable power of attorney-to a designated person of your choosing. The person you choose agrees to be your medical POA by signing the form. As medical POA, the person you choose becomes your proxy to speak for you. Your healthcare professionals will use the living will as a guide in taking care of your. When things happen that are unexpected, your wishes may have to be interpreted when they are not spelled out in the advance directive.
If you do not have an advance directive or living will, your decisions will be made by your spouse, if you are married. If you aren’t married, the decisions will go to your children or parents. In a living will you decide if you want a respirator or ventilator should you need respiratory support; you declare if you want nutritional support in the form of a feeding tube, should the need arise. Without a living will, your family will have to make these decisions for you. Their decisions may be based on emotion, and may not be what you would have wanted, so it is always best to have this base covered.
If you want to be resuscitated through CPR-cardiopulmonary resuscitation-put it in writing just what you want done. Resuscitation restarts the heart, if you had a cardiac event that stopped it. Put everything in writing-how far do you want to go with CPR? Do you want to have your heart shocked, if the medical personnel are having trouble reviving you? If you are revived, do you want to be put on a mechanical ventilator? How long would you be willing to be kept on a ventilator?
The laws regarding advance directives are mandated by the state you live in. Ask your doctor for the forms to fill out, if you would like to write a living will. It is not necessary to get an attorney to choose a power of attorney-but many people do-just so the plans they made won’t be questioned later. It is a good idea to give a copy of your power of attorney document to the person you has chosen, just in case something happens and you cannot speak for yourself. The person you chose then can speak for you, and has the papers to prove it. Make sure you also have given your POA a copy of your advance directive-it is important that your POA has all the paperwork to be your proxy, should the need arise.
Talk to your family and doctor ahead of time about your wishes. Families can get caught up in emotion and be torn apart when it comes to making decisions for you. It is best that they know up front what your philosophy on life is, and what you want do for you, if you cannot speak for yourself.
Source: Mayo Clinic information page