A living will is a document that explains whether or not you want to be kept on life support if you become terminally ill and will die shortly without life support, or fall into a persistent vegetative state. It also addresses other important questions, detailing your preferences for tube feeding, artificial hydration, and pain medication in certain situations. A living will becomes effective only when you cannot communicate your desires on your own.
A living will is usually limited to the refusal of, or desire for, medical treatment in the event of:
- a terminal illness
- an injury, or
- permanent unconsciousness
In the event you are unable to communicate your desires in such situations and do not have a living will, doctors or hospitals may decide they are legally obligated to perform certain procedures that you would not desire. If your spouse, adult child or another relative is called upon to make a decision about your care, he or she will find it helpful if you have expressed your wishes in a living will. A living will tells others what you want to happen in such circumstances.
You may see a living will called by other names, such as:
- a declaration regarding life-prolonging procedures;
- an advance directive; or,
- a declaration.