Despite all the misconceptions and outright lies surrounding 2009 health legislation (i.e., Medicare payments for end-of-life care counseling), the fact remains that the legal document known as the "advance directive" or "living will" has been promoted by public officials of every political stripe ever since it was first devised in the late 60s.
The good news is that Americans are still free to control their own medical fates without government interference, especially when it comes to extraordinary treatment that may prolong their lives against their wishes.
What is a living will?
If you don't want extraordinary measures taken if you become incapacitated, the living will is one way to spell out your wishes and give you complete control of your end of life care.
Why create a living will?
With medical advances proceeding at a rapid pace into the 21st century, doctors and other health care professionals now have an array of machinery that helps to prolong life artificially. Today, it's up to each individual to decide whether or not they want to avail themselves of such treatment.
The living will is created while an individual is still healthy, and not only directs a medical team on final treatment wishes, but relieves family members of the decision on the best course of action to take concerning end of life care.
Do it yourself - How to create a living will
To create a living will, you need:
- To be at least 18 years old, and "of sound mind."
- Two witnesses and notary public signatures to transform the piece of paper into a legally binding document.
Since there is no one single form available from the federal government, you need to know your individual state regulations in regards to rules and requirements covering living wills. If you search for information online, beware of sites that charge for forms you can easily download and print for free.
On most forms all the "legalize" is already included. This usually includes the phrases like "...being of sound mind..." along with a statement that you are not acting under coercion by any interested party. Once that's squared away, a living will document (also called "advance directives" or "medical power of attorney") outlines your specific wishes for medical treatment when you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself. These may include instances of severe brain damage, paralysis, persistent vegetative state, incurable disease or terminal illness.
In addition. you can also spell out any specific treatment you wish to forego such as a feeding tube, respirator, dialysis machine, or other extraordinary measures that would prolong life unnecessarily. Along with your living will, you may also want to complete the separate "Do Not Resusitate" order that specifically directs your doctor not to apply emergency CPR.
Witnessing your living will
Once all the necessary documents are completed, visit a local notary public and bring along two other people to witness the document.
Who can serve as witnesses? It depends. In some cases, your doctor or spouse, relatives or legal heirs are barred to act as witnesses for living wills. So be sure to check your individual state regulations before you go.
Finally, give each witness a copy of the document so that in the event it's needed it can be retrieved quickly and given to hospital personnel. Also give extra copies to close family members, and keep one for yourself. In addition, think about carrying an advance directive notification card in your wallet that gives doctors the heads-up along with any necessary contact information in case of emergency.
More about living wills and advance directives around the Web: