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Living Will Explained

Living Wills

An individual may enter into a vegetative state due to a progressive terminal illness or an unfortunate and tragic accident. As a terminal illness progresses and a patient nears the end of life, his/her system will eventually shut down and he/she will stop breathing. In these situations, doctors will attempt to resuscitate the patient, and accordingly, it is often left to the family to determine when to cease and desist extensive methods of sustaining a patient's life.

When doctors determine that there is no chance that a patient will recover and he/she will remain in a permanent comatose state, his/her family must decide when to end life-sustaining care. This may cause feelings of anger and altercations between family members.

Some family members may believe it is unethical to keep an individual alive in this state, while other family members may view the termination of life support as an egregious act. Clearly, this situation may be very difficult for families, as they try to determine what course of action is in the best interest of their kin as patient.

This situation may be avoided to a large extent, however, if an individual establishes a living will. Living wills allow individuals to detail their wishes regarding medical treatment in the event that they are terminally ill or seriously injured, and are unable to divulge their own desires at the time of treatment. If an individual does not wish to be subjected to extraordinary life-sustaining treatments, such as feeding tubes and ventilation machines, he/she can document this in a living will.

If an individual becomes unresponsive, with little or no chance of recovery, the living will will inform doctors of the patient's wishes. Likewise, if an individual has a terminal illness and does not wish to be resuscitated once they stop breathing, this can be recorded in his/her living will. It is important for an individual and his/her family to understand that living wills are generally only effective if there is very little or no chance that he/she will ever make a full recovery.

For example, if an individual will survive, but will be required to utilize a feeding tube for the rest of his/her life, then doctors will adhere to the wishes set forth in the living will. However, if it is expected that patients will eventually return to a normal life without the need of life sustaining equipment, then living wills may not be effective.

When creating living wills, it is important for people to carefully and specifically detail all of their wishes. They should not be vague when refusing medical treatment; an individual should state exactly what procedures or support he/she will allow and which ones he/she does not want. If an individual will accept an artificial pacemaker, but does not want a feeding tube inserted, he/she must record this in his/her living will.

Also, an individual should specify what conditions, if any, he/she will allow life-sustaining support. For example, he/she may find this support to be acceptable if there is reasonable evidence that he/she will eventually recover. Living wills can be created by any individual that is over the age of eighteen and is mentally stable. This may be a prudent measure after all, as unexpected, traumatic accidents can occur at any age.

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