Last modified: April 4, 2017
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A Living Will is a legal document that a person prepares while in still good or normal health, to convey his or her preferences about the type of life prolonging medical treatment that could be used if and when the person is incapacitated and unable to communicate. This document is frequently called as “advance directive” or “health care directive”. In the U.S., such advance decisions for refusing treatment are granted by the Mental Capacity Act 2005 that became part of law in April 2007.
By this law, a valid document with the advance decision refusing life-prolonging treatment will prevent doctors from treating the person under the conditions specified in the document. Any doctor transgressing this will be subjected to legal action. It should be noted, however, that a Living Will has no connections or authority in the distribution of the person’s wealth or assets. This only takes care of the wishes of the person in a likely future situation when oral communication may not be possible.
There is no actual format for writing a Living Will, but it would avoid any confusion if the following are included: the full details of the person making the living will such as the name and other demographic information, clear and unambiguous instructions about the types of medical treatments that are acceptable and those that are unacceptable, the conditions under which this directive would become operative and the date of the document preparation and the signature. If the person is unable to write or sign the document, then the writer who prepared the document on behalf of this person signs the Living Will. These are the general requirements and may vary from place to place. Legal counsel for preparing the living will would make it free from being contested later.
The possible situations that the Living Will becomes operative could be when the person is suffering from a terminal illness or when the person lapses into a coma or vegetative state. In that case, a course of treatment that just prolongs the life and does not contribute to a future healthy and active life may not be desired by the sufferer. The living will is only effective after the sufferer is completely incapacitated and can no longer communicate his or her wishes to the care givers and relatives. Moreover the attending doctor and another doctor must certify that the person is suffering from a terminal illness and cannot function normally again, or is permanently without consciousness like in a coma. Other life-threatening situations from which the patient can recover, like an accident or a heart attack, are not covered by the living will.
However, there are circumstances or conditions that cannot be covered by a living will such as: the person cannot request for a particular treatment or in doing something illegal like in committing or abetting suicide; or to hand over the decision making to another person – for which another type of document is needed called the ‘Lasting Power of Attorney’.
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