What is a Living Will and Why You Need One?

Living Will for ElderlyWhile death may be a part of every life, it’s not a part we like to dwell upon. But as we get older, death becomes something we must not only deal with, but we must make plans for our death. Planning one’s demise, or at least the circumstances around it, becomes a necessity.

A living will is a written statement that you do not want life-prolonging medical procedures to be performed when your condition is hopeless and there is no chance of regaining a meaningful life. Although called a “will,” it has nothing to do with property, but rather with one’s self. It is also intended to take effect while you are living. It is an advance directive, operative only at the time you are terminally ill and unconscious, or otherwise incompetent to discuss and decide with your physician what treatment you wish.

Not only a tool to control the extent and type of medical care you receive at the end of your life, a living will can also help reduce the emotional stresses and strains felt by both your family and your doctor. You’re basically helping those who must make decisions whether to withhold, withdraw or continue medical treatment that cannot cure or reverse your terminal condition.

A living will should address your feelings on whether or not you would want these four things done to you:

  1. If your heart stopped, would you want cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) started?
  2. If you were unable to breathe on  your own, would you want to be put on a respirator (breathing machine)?
  3. If you were unable to eat food on your own, would you want to be fed through a stomach tube?
  4. If your kidneys stopped working, would you want to be put on a dialysis machine?

You can say yes to some actions, and no to other ones. It is your decision. It is perfectly fine to say, “I want everything done,” or “I want nothing done.” No one should ever be coerced into signing a document in which you do not feel comfortable. Speak with your doctor about these choices. They can explain the pros and cons of each intervention based on your medical concerns.

If you create an advance directive, you will still receive pain medications and other appropriate interventions. Creating an advance directive does not mean that you will be left to die or given medications to die. It is not a suicide wish or statement.

Having a living will in place ensures that you maintain control of your healthcare decisions, even at the end of life. You are protecting your loved ones and helping them to know exactly what you wish to happen should you be unable to tell them. By relieving the stress of making these decisions for you, a living will is a gift that you can give your family.

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