Living Wills and Medical Decisions

Living Wills and Medical DecisionsIt is clear that death is an unavoidable part of life and many people do not want to come into terms with the fact that we won’t live forever. However, in this and age, it is extremely important that one plan for their end-of-life care. It is essential for every person to think about their final days so as to ensure that the quality of their life in the future is secured and also to reduce the burden it could have on their loved ones.

Discussing your desires and wishes with your family and creating a living will in advance, offers an assurance that your wishes concerning your future medical care will be catered for as per your requests.

A living will, which is also referred to as an advance health care directive, is a legal document whereby a person specifies the actions to be taken concerning their health in case they are not able to make any decision for themselves due to an illness or incapacity. In short, it describes one’s preferences about various life-sustaining medical decisions.

Living wills vary by country. For example, in the United States, it has a legal status but in some other countries it’s not a legal document, but still legally convincing. A living will leaves instructions for treatment as opposed to other types of advance directives like power of attorney, where the person directs someone else known as an agent to decide on their behalf in case they are incapacitated or very ill.

A living will is one of the oldest health care advance directives and without a living will, the family is faced with difficult decisions regarding important matters on your health. For instance, a family would not be sure if their loved one would have preferred to be kept alive on a ventilator or have it withdrawn. Therefore, it is important for each and every person to have a living will since even the healthiest person, unfortunately, could have an accident that would leave them unable to speak for themselves.

Some important things to consider when thinking about a living will:

  • Life-sustaining options you would prefer; tube feeding, antibiotics, or mechanical ventilation.
  • Pain relief options- some may have negative side effects of unintentionally quickening your death.
  • Artificial life support- would you want them to be removed if your brain is irreversibly dead or would you prefer your life to be sustained until the heart stops beating?
  • Would you want organ donation in case one of your organ fails?
  • After you have passed, what do you want to be done with your body? Would you prefer medical research, cremation or burial? How do you want your funeral arrangements to be handled?

A living will determines the medical decisions to be taken by the doctors and caregivers when you are terminally ill, in a coma, seriously injured or when near end of life. By planning ahead, it’s possible to protect your caregivers from unnecessary suffering and disagreement that may arise among your family members as they decide what is better for you. A living will does not determine one’s medical treatment in circumstances that does not affect their continued life such as conditions that are not life-threatening.

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