Nobody wants to think about being so injured or sick that they can no longer make healthcare choices for themselves. However, if it does happen, it’s too late to tell people what kind of medical care you want and how to go about administrating it.
The start of incapacitation is when a living will becomes effective. Therefore, this article focuses on what is included in a living will and how to make a living will be more helpful in understanding how to carry out your healthcare wishes.
Writing a living will does not have to be a complicated matter. Providing your wishes on a free living will form, as long as it is signed, witnessed and notarized according to your state’s statute, is enough to put your directives in effect if the time should come. However, to make your living will unambiguous and ironclad, ensure that the living will is formatted with 4 to 6 sections that include the principal’s information, general directives, specific instructions and the signature sections.
The principal or patient is the person drafting the living will, which in this case would be you. This section includes the following information:
- Your name
- Your address
- A declaration that your choices were not influenced or coerced in any way.
In this section, you select yes or no to withhold or withdraw medical treatment if it prolongs your dying process. This section will also include the circumstances that will trigger the decision to withhold or withdraw further treatment. Examples of those circumstances include having a terminal condition or being in an unrecoverable vegetative state.
Instructions about what types of medical treatment will be withheld or withdrawn should it slow the progression of death are what you will include in this section. The specific instructions for withholding or withdrawing certain medical treatments or life-saving actions you may include are:
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- A breathing ventilator
- A feeding tube supplying nutrients and fluids intravenously or uses a tube inserted in the stomach
- Dialysis or the removal of waste from the bloodstream.
- Medications that treat infections, such as antibiotics or antiviral drugs.
This section can also include medical treatments you would want while other treatment decisions are followed. For example, suppose your living will says that you no longer want food or water after a certain point. In that case, this section can also state that you would like to have comfort medication administered to avoid the discomfort and pain associated with the lack of water and food.
Also, include who will be the agent or caregiver on your behalf. This person or persons will facilitate the decision-making process when you cannot do so. In addition, the agent or agents will confer with medical personnel to ensure the living will is carried out to the last wish.
A living will can also provide directives for pastoral and spiritual care. For example, for someone of the Catholic faith, the living will directions can include making sure healing sacraments are administered to give peace, strength and grace while preparing for death.
This section can also include whether you want your organs and tissues donated after your passing. You can even state if you wish to donate your body for scientific study and research.
The more specific you are about your wishes in this section, the less likely medical personnel will carry out the decisions made on your behalf incorrectly because of ambiguities or misinterpretations.
This section can have three areas, one for the principal’s signature, one for the witnesses’ signatures and another for the notary’s signature. However, not all of these sections are required depending on the state that you reside in and the laws governing living wills.
For example, residents of most states need to have two witnesses or have a choice between two witnesses or a notary to sign a living will. However, North Carolina requires both two witnesses and a notary, while Arizona and Utah only need one witness’s signature. Alaska and New Mexico have no witness requirements, while Michigan has no state law regarding living wills.
A thoughtfully drafted living will erases any vagueness that may be open to misinterpretation. Be as specific as possible to avoid ambiguity and misunderstandings. Also, talk to family members, close friends, or whoever will be your caregiver, pointing out the living will directives so they understand them clearly.
Appoint someone you can trust to confer with the medical team taking care of you so they cannot ignore or misinterpret your wishes. With your agent, physicians and nurses working together, there can be no deviating from your living will directions.