A living will (also known as an “advance directive”) is meant to:
1. specify the scope of medical treatment we wish to receive in the event of our incapacity; and
2. spare our loved ones the terrible emotional burden of having to make decisions with which they would have to live and that might drive them apart from one another when they need each other most.
In a living will we can make clear whether we wish to have any and all lifesaving and supportive measures (as most healthy parents of young children would normally prefer) or wish to refuse certain lifesaving measures, preferring palliative care to make us more comfortable in our final days or moments (as someone suffering from an illness for which there is no cure and from which there is no hope for recovery might prefer).
We can make clear where we want care (e.g. at home or in the hospital), who we want to provide the care (e.g. family or medical professionals), who we want around us in our final weeks and moments (e.g. surrounded by friends and family or only our closest relatives, asking others to please respect our privacy). Perhaps most importantly, we can name the person, and backup person, we choose to speak on our behalf of our family so there can be no confusion.
While in Massachusetts, a living will is not legally binding, it does provide guidance to our medical caregivers enabling them to make better informed decisions for us and easing the interaction between them and our family. To help ensure that our wishes are known and more likely to be followed, we must be sure to discuss them with our primary care providers and give them copies of our living wills. We should also be sure to keep copies readily available (e.g. in our wallets, cars, with a close relatives or friends) in case of emergency.
A living will is what the then 27-year-old, formerly healthy, Terri Schiavo lacked when she suddenly, unexpectedly suffered respiratory and cardiac arrest leaving her in a persistent vegetative state. What followed were fifteen years of institutionalization and artificial feedings during which her husband and her parents painfully disagreed about what she would have wanted under those awful circumstances. While her case is the most well known in recent memory, it was neither the first nor will it be the last.
Even if you’re young and healthy, remember that accidents happen. Don’t leave your family and friends wondering, or disagreeing, about what you would have wanted or they believe should be done. Please talk with your attorney about reviewing or drafting a living will for you today.