Fewer than half of Americans older than 65 have a living will or advanced directive according to a recent Consumer Reports National Research Center survey. Without this document, which spells out healthcare preferences, should you be unable to speak for yourself, your intentions for your healthcare may be unknown.
A living will is a document that specifies your healthcare wishes should you become ill and unable to speak for yourself. A living will cannot take effect unless a person is determined by two physicians to be terminally ill or in a permanently vegetative state.
Some people are reticent to complete a living will because they believe that the document only withholds treatment at end of life. Some may also be concerned that doctors would be slower to initiate treatment or not give a patient an adequate chance to recover should they know that there is a living will. In truth, the writer of the document can give directions for any and all types of care and can request aggressive care should that be their preference.
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Specific instructions for tube feeding, mechanical ventilation, resuscitation, and organ donation can – and should be included in your directives.
Medical issues can become complicated, so it is advised that you consult with your physician prior to finalizing your living will document. At that time, you can clarify with the doctor any medical questions you may have. This would insure that your wishes are being communicated effectively and clearly in your document.
Examples of Living Will documents can be easily found from the internet. Some people prefer to utilize their attorney for document preparation. Once your documents are completed to your satisfaction, it is important to provide copies to your health care proxy and your physician and to carry documents with you when you vacation in case of unexpected illness.
This article was written with information from Consumer Reports on Health, March 2015.