Living Wills are documents defining your “right to die”, or rather your “right to die with dignity.” They usually state that you do not want to have your life artificially prolonged by modern medical technologies when there is no hope of curing you. (Actually, most of the laws require that “death must be imminent” before they can be used. Of course, the big question is what does “imminent” mean?) You can specifically define the means which you do not want used or the means and procedures you do want used. The living will is the document that expresses your desires to the doctors, telling them when to back off and let you die. The living will is very different from the testamentary will, which disposes of your property after your death.
Why Living Wills?
Living wills address your “right to die.” The issue of your right to die has moved from the hospitals to the courts. What should be a private, personal and family decision has been turned into a judge’s decision.
The issue came to the media headlines in 1975 with the case of Karen Ann Quinlan, a young woman in a “permanent vegetative state.” Karen was believed by everyone to be breathing only because a respirator was being used to aid her. After years of court battles, her parents finally obtained a court order directing the doctors to “unplug” her. The respirator stopped, as her parents stood by her side sadly wishing her a final farewell. Living wills prevent this from happening.
The peace death could have brought Karen eluded her. She lived on in her vegetative state without the respirator. She continued to be fed through tubes. She lived several more years in her vegetative state before her “natural death.”
Since the Quinlan case, all states have wrestled with your right to die. Where do your rights meet those of the medical and legal professionals?
State laws addressing a citizen’s right to die are very specific. The language that can be used in living wills is specifically set forth in your state’s law. Many hospitals and rest homes will give you a fill-in-the-blank living will, and because it is the language required by state law, there isn’t much you can change or add. Just use the free living will you get at you local hospital.
Sometimes living wills also includes a HIPAA clause. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 protects a patient’s privacy. That’s great, but it means that if the doctors get obstinate or don’t have time to talk to you, then they just site HIPAA and they don’t have to tell you anything about your 18 year old, or your spouse. That’s not good! The HIPAA language is standard. Simply download one of the HIPAA agreements.