A Living Will is a document regarding healthcare at the end of your life. It states that any treatment that would otherwise lengthen your life should be withheld in specific circumstances, such as being in a permanent vegetative state, irreversibly unconscious or terminally ill. Through a Living Will, you express the desire to die a natural death, free from having your life extended artificially using life support in any form such as a life support machine, tube feeding, or medication. In other words, by way of a Living Will you tell your family and your doctor that you do not consent to being kept alive artificially.
A Living Will would typically read as follows: “Should I no longer be capable of making decisions and should my physical and/or mental condition deteriorate to such an extent that there is no reasonable prospect of my recovery from physical illness or impairment which is expected to cause me severe distress or to render me incapable of rational existence, I request that I be allowed to die. I further request that no systems be used in order to keep me alive in circumstances where, but for the use of such systems, I would have died”.
A Living Will usually does not withhold any necessary and adequate pain management, even if the moment of death is hastened. A typical clause in a Living Will regarding medication would read as follows: “I request that I be given whatever quantity of drugs and/or medicine and/or intravenous fluids as may be required to keep me comfortable and free from pain or distress even if the moment of death is hastened”.
A Living Will provides peace of mind as it enables you to express your choice of medical care should you be unable to communicate. A Living Will can also assist in settling disagreements amongst family members and medical professionals regarding appropriate treatment. A Living Will can also assist in containing the cost of dying. Most people would prefer to pass away rather than live on life support which can lead to astronomical medical bills which may jeopardise the financial security of their family. It is very difficult for a family member to request the withdrawal of medical treatment based on affordability.
Many people think that a Living Will is not something they need unless they have reached an advanced age. Young adults are however far more likely than the elderly to be involved in fatal or near-fatal accidents, and they must ensure that they have a Living Will to cover such a situation. Many people are under the mistaken impression that a general power of attorney will suffice if they are mentally incapacitated or in a coma following an accident. Unfortunately, a power of attorney becomes invalid the moment the person that gave the power of attorney can no longer exercise his or her judgement.
Drawing up a Living Will need not be expensive or time-consuming and, while you can do it yourself, it is better to have an attorney assist you with preparing a Living Will. The Living Will should be accessible, so it is advisable to inform your family of the location of the Living Will and to provide your medical practitioner with a copy. A Living Will should be a separate document from your Last Will and Testament because it serves a different purpose. A Last Will and Testament takes effect after your death, whereas a Living Will comes in to play while you are still alive but in an incapacitated state.
It is all about peace of mind and knowing that your loved ones aren’t put in a position to make difficult decisions. Together with a Last Will and Testament, having a Living Will in place might be one of the final acts of love you show your family.