If you've ever been a patient at a hospital or any other medical facility, you've probably been asked this question: "Do you have a Living Will?" So what is this document? A Living Will is a document which allows you to declare your desires in the event of an "end-of-life" situation such as a terminal illness, an end-stage condition, or a permanent vegetative state. In making this declaration, here is some typical language contained in a Florida Living Will:
If at any time I have a terminal condition, end stage condition, or am in a persistent vegetative state, and if my attending or treating physician and another consulting physician have determined that there is no medical probability of my recovery from such condition, I direct that life-prolonging procedures be withheld or withdrawn when the application of such procedures would serve only to prolong artificially the process of dying, and that I be permitted to die naturally with only the administration of medication or the performance of any medical procedure deemed necessary to provide me with comfort care or to alleviate pain.
Often a Living Will contains a section where you can indicate what types of procedures you wish to forgo in the event of an end-of-life circumstance. For instance, you may designate that if you are at the end of your life, you do not want to have mechanical respiration, nasogastric or other feeding tube, or electrical or mechanical resuscitation. Other specific wishes can also be included in your Living Will.
In most Living Wills, you can appoint a person or persons who can speak for you on end-of-life issues if you are unable to do so. This person, called your "surrogate", is the one to come forward for you if you are in an end-of-life situation and cannot advocate for yourself.
One particularly important reason for having a Living Will is that it allows you to make the end-of-life decision without placing that on your family or loved ones. Having the Living Will conveys to them your intentions.
Many people are aware of Living Wills because of the highly publicized court battle which involved Terri Schiavo. This young lady suffered a catastrophic health crisis leaving her in an end-of-life condition. Her parents and her husband went to court trying to resolve whether she should be kept on life support or not. Unfortunately, Terri did not have a Living Will. If she had, she could have expressed her intentions and she could have appointed who would speak on her behalf. Because there was no Living Will, the Court had to make the decision of what to do.
In our law practice, we encourage all clients to have a Living Will as a way of preserving their right to die with dignity. If you do not have a Living Will, you should have one prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney.