More About Living Wills

Last week, I discussed living wills, sometimes called advance directives. That generated huge interest. Calls and e-mails poured in. End of life planning is hard. Advance care plans are designed to ensure that your wishes are honored when you become unable to speak for yourself after an accident or during terminal illness. One will take a huge load off your family as life ends.

The Project Grace organization helps with preparation of advance directives. Call my office for contact information. One question to me was: "Does a living will encourage my death?" No! You are simply giving instructions for the future about the medical care you will permit such as surgery, artificial breathing, and nutrition when there's little or no hope for recovery. One of the best things about an advance directive is that it becomes active only when you are beyond telling your doctor and family what your choices are for medical treatment.

Something a person might decide on is a "No CPR." Why would one choose that? The success rate of cardiopulmonary resuscitation is low. It almost always works on TV drama shows, but reality is the opposite. For victims of cardiac arrest outside a hospital, the success rate is 3-5 percent while the probability of irreversible brain damage is fairly high.

Many patients dying from terminal diseases may not want doctors to prevent them from dying in a natural, peaceful way. So their choices can include "No CPR" and "DNR," meaning do not resuscitate. Another question that came to me about living wills is this: "What if I change my mind after signing an advance directive?"

Advance care directives are never final until your capacity to make a decision and communicate it is lost. You can destroy the document. It's in place only to express your wishes, so it's changeable at will. A living will can give great peace of mind to your family and you. It is a gift to your family to remove heavy decisions from them at a most difficult time.

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