A living will or health care directive is a legal document concerning your intentions for medical care in the event you are incapacitated and unable to convey your wishes. The agent(s) you name would be responsible to make sure your wishes are carried out. It is a good idea to make sure your regular physicians have a copy of the directive. You should also supply a copy prior to any major medical procedures. Finally, you should have a discussion concerning your intentions with your agents in addition to providing them with a copy. The living will directs the treating physician to withhold or withdraw any life-sustaining treatments that serve only to prolong the process of dying, in the event of a terminal condition or state of permanent unconsciousness, including persistent vegetative state or irreversible coma.
The following forms of treatment can be approved or denied: cardiac resuscitation, mechanical respiration, tube feeding or other artificial/invasive forms of nutrition/hydration, blood or blood products, surgery or invasive diagnostic test, kidney dialysis, antibiotics, or respiratory support. You may also set parameters as to what your agent can do on your behalf. For example, whether they can authorize your admission or discharge from care, allow surgical procedures, complete insurance forms, permit donation of anatomical parts, or sign releases for disclosure of your health records. Consult with an attorney as well as your physician to understand your options with respect to your health care power of attorney. By April M. Townsend