Every person has the right to self-determination especially on the subject of health care. This right encompasses the decision to refuse or accept a particular type of treatment, may it be as simple as an oral medication or as complicated as a surgical procedure.
An individual who is of sound mind and above 18 years of age is also entitled to plan and give directions concerning future medical care in the event of a serious infirmity or vegetative state. He or she may convey certain wishes through living wills.
A living will is a legal file that informs your immediate family and your doctors concerning your preferences about life-support measures. These specialized group of medical treatments could include artificial respirators and tube feeding – all of which aim to prolong life with no definite hope of reinstating quality. The high-tech machines and gadgets may target and support specific organs in the body such as the lungs, kidneys, or the heart.
Normally, the orders stated in a living will becomes effective as soon as two qualified doctors – one of whom should be the attending physician – both concur in writing that the patient is either in a permanent/irreversible vegetative condition or close to death. Needless to say, it should be established that he or she is definitely incapable of expressing health care decisions.
In case you have a change of heart after completing a previous living will, you may effect the desired alterations in the legal document at any time. You may even call the whole thing off if you feel compelled to do so. Then again, you must follow certain procedures for the cancellation of a living will. State laws, with regard to living wills and advance directives, typically regulate this lawful action.
A completed and duly signed living will should be kept in a safe location where you and your immediate family can easily get hold of it. Therefore, storing this legal document in a secured deposit box is never a good idea.
You should also inform your lawyer – if you have one, as well as your next of kin, about the existence and whereabouts of your living will. In addition, your attending physician and health care provider should be notified and instructed in making the document a part of your permanent hospital records.
Living Will Vs. Power of Attorney
A living will is activated only when death is imminent or when a patient falls in a persistent vegetative condition and has lost all faculties of communication. It only handles the application or removal of life-support measures.
On the other hand, a durable power of attorney works in a different way. It basically goes into effect when a patient becomes incapacitated to make autonomous health care determinations. However, he or she does not have to be in a vegetative state or in a near-death condition.
The power of attorney also allows a surrogate to speak in behalf of the patient and to make the necessary health care decisions. But unlike a living will, the determinations are not restricted to life-prolonging treatments. The type and extent of decisions a surrogate can make essentially depends on your preferences.
It is not compulsory to have both a power of attorney and a living will. However, if you do decide to have both, you should make sure that they don’t clash. On top of that, you should view living wills as a right and not as a privilege given only to special people.