Do you have a living well? What is a living will? Why is it important? And how do you get one if it is important, you might ask.
Living Will, Health Care Directive and Advance Directive all refer to the legal document that lets people state their wishes for end of life medical care in preparation for when one is unable to make decision for himself/herself. It also includes your preference for other medical decisions such as pain management or organ donation.
One example is when an individual choose palliative care which is a type of care to decrease pain and suffering and not choose “extraordinary measures” like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in certain circumstances
If one is terminally ill, seriously injured, in a coma, in the late stages of dementia or near the end of life, this serves as a guide for healthcare practitioners or doctors as to what direction they would go.
It is very important to check your state’s requirements regarding notarization or witnesses in order for it to be valid. It is also important to choose a person to make decision on your behalf which is called Power Of Attorney because not all situations can be anticipated and there are still some situations where someone is required to make judgment about your wishes.
Who Do You Choose As Your Power Of Attorney
- You should choose someone who you can trust to make decisions that will honor your wishes and adhere to your values.
- Someone who meets the state’s requirements for a health care agent or power of attorney.
- It cannot be your doctor or part of your medical care team.
- It should be someone who is willing and able to discuss medical care and end of life issues with you.
- He / she can be trusted to be your advocate if in case disagreements about your care occurs.
- You can choose from your spouse, other family member, a trusted friend or a member of your church.
- It is always good to choose an alternate in case the person you choose is unable to fulfill the role.
The Terri Schiavo’s Story
It was in 1990 when 26 years old Terri Schiavo, a young married woman who lived in St. Petersburg, Florida was found face down in her apartment complex. She was unconscious and had no pulse. Her husband called 911 and so she was rushed to the hospital.
Although doctors were able to revive her heart, her brain was without oxygen for a long time. Doctors diagnosed her as being in a “persistent vegetative state”. It is a condition wherein there’s lack of brain activity even though the individual still maintains a sleep wake cycles and can appear awake. The individual has no awareness or insight and is totally unresponsive.
Schiavo’s medical team did everything to help her condition improve but without success. Her husband believed that she would not want to live in such condition so he requested for her feeding tube be removed contrary to what her parents believed.
Her parents were very sure that she could still recover and that she still has some awareness then, which prompted a legal battle between them and her husband that lasted for many years. After innumerable legal proceedings and attempts by Congress to intervene, Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed in 2005. After seven days, she passed away.
If Terri Schiavo had made her living will, this conflict between her husband and parents could have been avoided. This case is a reminder of how important a living will is.
As a nurse, I have seen this situation countless times wherein a patient has been bedridden for years and has been connected to a ventilator. Or a patient has been in a vegetative state and is being fed through feeding tube. Some due to immobility would develop pressure sore on their bottom or back and would have no control with their bladder and bowel movements.
Some family would have had a hard time caring for them so some individual would end up in a nursing home. And would stay there for a long time, and the sad part is…until they die.
Who Are This Document For
So living will or Advance directives aren’t just for older adults. Unexpected end of life situations can happen at any age. As a nurse I have seen terminally ill individuals, seriously injured, in a coma, has dementia and near the end of life of different ages. So it is important for all adults to prepare this documents.
Even healthy people need a living will, but a lot of people do not want to think about it. The last thing most of us have in our minds is a living will or thinking about end of life care.
Why Is Living Will Important
- Living wills allow an individual to specify how they want to be cared for if they become very ill or incapacitated that they won’t be able to make decisions for themselves.
- It will eliminate conflict between family members whether to withdraw life support or not. Just like the high profile legal battle involving Terri Schiavo.
- It gives the medical or healthcare team as to what direction to go.
- It will reduce ambiguity during a difficult time by stating the wishes on the use of feeding tubes, cardio pulmonary resuscitation and other procedures that might be needed to prolong one’s life.
- It will avoid unnecessary sufferings.
- It will relieve caregivers of decision-making burdens during moments of crisis or grief.
How Do You Get One
One can make a legally binding living will without paying an attorney by using a reputable estate planning software. The requirements for living will vary from state to state that’s why some people hire a lawyer. Some would take care of their will or trust and living will at the same time.
Something To Think About
In determining your wishes, think about your values. Consider how important it is to you to be living a good quality of life by being independent and self-sufficient and find out what circumstances might make you feel like your life is not worth living.
Do you have any stories to tell similar to the one I discussed above? If you do, I’d love to hear them. If you have any comments or questions please leave them down below.