Do You Need a Living Will?

You don’t have to be a little old lady with silver hair and a pacemaker to tell your family and doctors what type of treatment you’d want – or not want – if you were suddenly medically incapacitated.

Sure, you might be young and perfectly healthy but you never know what can happen.

Unless you spell out what you’d want if you were medically incapacitated, your life is not in your hands.

Terri Schiavo’s publicized court case got everyone talking about a living will – a legal document that describes what you would want to happen if you were in a medical crisis.

But because a living will doesn’t go into effect until you’re terminally ill or permanently unconscious, many legal experts advocate also writing up a “health-care power of attorney.”

Don’t keep your living will under wraps but give a copy to your proxy and primary doctor plus keep a wallet card indicating its location.

The women at the heart of three landmark right-to-die cases were under 30.

Don’t bother with the expense of a lawyer.

All you need to do is visit a website like medicaldirective.org (cost $15 to download a form), agingwithdignity.org, nhpco.org, or lawdepot.com where you can download do-it-yourself forms for free or a nominal fee (under $15).

Because every state has slightly different requirements (some may require two witnesses to sign; a few want the document notarized), make sure you download a form specific to where you live or check the web site of your state’s attorney general where detailed info should be posted.

Living wills also give you room on the form to designate what you want or don’t want for pain and in what capacity.

In a sardonic column, “Living Will is the Best Revenge” Robert Friedman of the St. Petersburg Times wrote, “In the event I lapse into a persistent vegetative state, I want medical authorities to resort to extraordinary means to prolong my health semiexistence and my wife and parents to compound their misery by engaging in a bitter and protracted feud that depletes their emotions and bank accounts.”

Advanced directives and living wills do not have to be complicated legal documents, according to one website.

A living will is also known as a “Will to live” or “Advanced health directive.”

In the Netherlands, for example, patients and potential patients can specify the circumstances under which they would want euthanasia for themselves.

In Switzerland there are several organizations which take care of registering patient decrees, forms which are signed by the patients declaring that in case of permanent loss of judgment (e.g. inability to communicate or severe brain damage) all means of prolonging life should be stopped.

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