Living Wills and Health Care Powers Of Attorney
To many people, the fear of a lingering death is worse than the fear of dying. Yet often near the end of one's life, one is unable to make decisions or express desires concerning medical care to loved ones or medical personnel. A living will and a health care power of attorney are legal documents which will permit you to make certain choices regarding your future health care and will allow you to appoint another individual to make those decisions for you in the event that you are unable to make them for yourself.
What is a Living Will?
A living will allows you to authorize the withholding of extraordinary means of keeping you alive (for example, respirator care) and may authorize the withholding or discontinuance of artificial nutrition or hydration. You may make different choices as to the level of care to be withheld or discontinued depending upon whether your medical condition is terminal and incurable or you are in a persistent vegetative state.
What is a Health Care Power of Attorney?
You may authorize the designated person (the "health care agent") to consent to the withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining procedures in the event you are determined to be: (1) terminally ill, (2) permanently in a coma, (3) suffering from severe dementia, or (4) in a persistent vegetative state. Life-sustaining procedures are those which only serve to artificially prolong the dying process and may include mechanical ventilation, dialysis, antibiotics, artificial nutrition and hydration, and any other medical treatment (other than care to provide comfort or alleviate pain). In addition to making decisions in "life and death" situations, your health care agent also may be authorized to make more routine medical decisions for you (for example, to consent to X-rays or surgery).
A health care power of attorney will not be effective if a court appoints a guardian to act on your behalf. However, you may indicate in the document your choice of a guardian in the event guardianship proceedings are commenced.
How Should a Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney Be Made?
If I Do Not Have a Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney, Who Will Make These Decisions for Me?
If an individual does not have a living will or health care power of attorney, the decisions will be made by the patient's spouse or next of kin, unless a court has appointed a guardian. Under the provisions of