A living will is also called an “advance directive” that gives directions for care for the future time when one may no longer be competent or able to direct one’s care.
Having a living will does not absolutely ensure that your wishes will be respected but it increases the chances that persons charged with these decisions will have some support with the knowledge that you have considered your care and possibilities and have put forth your opinion.
When you discuss these decisions with family and loved ones, you help to prepare them for the possibility that a situation may occur and they may be faced with having to speak up for your wishes. The discussion can also help you think over the issues and focus on aspects that you had not considered.
Those who can be included are your clergy, your lawyer, your physician and the medical facility as well as family members and close friends.
I have seen some terrible crises occur when family members have been called to decide about life support. It is a difficult time. Unfortunately not everyone dies suddenly.
When faced with heroic efforts, what do we want? Do we want CPR, feeding tubes, invasive surgeries, costly and innovative treatments? At what point do we want to have all efforts cease? It is impossible to foresee all the circumstances that could occur but it is possible, with discussion, to give loved ones a sense of what your wishes are. For instance, would you consider a feeding tube if it was for a limited period while you were recovering from a surgery?
Organ donation is also a very important issue to raise. Leaving your body to science is another topic some persons consider. There can be very conflicting opinions about these topics within families. Religions can also have guidelines that may be considered.
Part of the process is also to appoint a substitute decision maker particularly if you want to change the normal flow of family consultation. Often the spouse and children are primary decision makers but with divorces and separations there may be another person who is best to know your wishes and take control. They can’t do this if you have not done the paperwork.
A family crisis often throws people into difficult positions and forces them to make decisions quickly and unexpectedly.
If you can prepare the groundwork for this you may help to prevent some of the terrible family feuds medical personnel must deal with. It is a gift of incalculable value to give your family a prepared and thoughtful farewell.