The Basics of Living Wills
If you are unable to communicate for yourself at the moment, a living will lets doctors know what kind of treatment you would like. It is one type of plan or advance directive you can make and give to your medical team when you are of sound mind. You may ask to review it with your medical team so they can ask questions. In some situations, like a car accident, the providing medical team may not be part of your regular care. Giving your living will to family members and storing it on an app such as Mind Your Loved Ones is a good idea to help make your living will accessible in an emergency.
In most situations, doctors will comply, but there could be a situation where they are unable or unwilling to follow your living will. You may wonder why you have a living will if your treating doctor can override it. Here is the truth, a living will protect the treating doctor from liability. Without that legal protection, they are ethically and legally obligated to use every reasonable measure to prolong your life. They might prolong your life even in circumstances that you would not agree to if you were well. They may also use treatments that you have strong convictions against receiving. For example, you may (or may not) want to receive blood transfusions, use a ventilator, or a feeding tube. Those are all items you can put in your advance health care directive.
Doctors See the Fallout of Not Having a Living Will
Fierce Healthcare reports that almost two-thirds of physicians have an advance directive compared with only one-third of the general population. Doctors, especially those in emergency departments, see more strife from a lack of a living will than most people. They see the emotional toll it takes when family members agonize about what you would want in various situations. They see family relationships destroyed because they disagree on the best course of action. No one wants to think that your health care proxy refused your medical treatment for inheritance or to relieve a burden of care. Unfortunately, these suspicions and accusations occur when family members don't see what you would have chosen for yourself.
Doctors also know from experience the emotional and financial cost of end-of-life health care decisions. They understand that some procedures and therapies come with great expense and pain and don't yield an outcome that would have a high quality of life. For example, surgery and long-term care could prolong your life by a few months, but in those months, you would endure pain and be on a ventilator and feeding tube. If you prefer receiving palliative care instead of surgery in that circumstance, a living will help doctors and family members follow what you want with fewer ethical and legal dilemmas.
Getting Started on Your Living Will or Advance Directive
You can start and update a living will at any time. Some situations, such as a new medical diagnosis, advanced age, or a change in your family relationships, are common for creating and updating one. For example, suppose you are a newly widowed person in your eighties and recently diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. In that case, you know that you will need medical care and that your remaining loved ones deserve to know how you want to spend the last part of your life.
While plenty of Do-It-Yourself living wills are available to purchase, they often lack the nuance and details that help your medical team. Their ambiguity makes it so that other people still have to make their best guesses. A DIY living will is better than no advance directive but one done with the help of an expert guide is ideal. A lawyer well versed in the medical laws of your state will help you craft a living will that aligns with your values. They will also advise you on how to store it and who to give it to so that everyone can access it if needed. Call us today, and we will get you on the right path to making your medical decisions known.