Removing the Fear of Creating a Living Will

Advance care directives for end of life are sometimes referred to as living wills. It's a strange name, because they're really used for dying. An example of how they're used is Jim's case. He's driving home from a meeting. His wife, Donna, and their children are waiting for him to get home for dinner, but an eighteen wheeler hit his car on I-10.

Donna rushed to the hospital and saw her brain damaged husband on a respirator. She's told there's no hope for recovery but that Jim's body can be kept alive for awhile on the respirator. What should she do? Emotions overcome her. Fortunately, she didn't have to make the decision about whether to remove him from the respirator or allow his body to be tortured by extended artificial care, because Jim had written a plan. It told the doctors what to do.

In case of catastrophic injury or terminal illness, he wanted to die in peace, naturally, without having the awful burden of making the hard decisions put on his family's shoulders. That's why he had contacted a non-profit organization some years before to write his advance directives. Jim was released from the machines to die naturally a few hours later.

This is only one example of how advance planning can be beneficial to a family. Most of the time, it is used when people are terminally ill from diseases like cancer. Some facts about advance directives or living wills should reassure us. Anyone over 18 has the right to decline medical treatments that cause unwarranted suffering and serve only to prolong the dying process.

A living will provides the opportunity for people who care about each other to have a dialogue about end of life medical choices. It is a legal document that allows one to make health care choices for the future when confusion or unconsciousness makes it impossible to communicate preferences. I'll tell you more about this choice in the next blog.

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