Why You Should Have A Living Will
By Jennifer Simons, Esq., McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.
Would you want to be kept alive if doing so would merely prolong the dying process? Unfortunately this is a subject that many people avoid and don’t want to talk about or think about, understandably so. Most people do not want to come to terms with their own mortality and therefore, do not plan or communicate to family members, or their physician, as to what measures they want taken should they be in a state of permanent unconsciousness or an end-stage medical condition. But as unpleasant as the thought is, there are several reasons why it is wise, and even a gift to family members, to make your end-of-life wishes known. By executing a Living Will, commonly called an Advance Medical Directive, an individual may indicate his/her preferences in advance regarding the initiation, continuation, withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment should they later become incompetent to make these decisions.
Clients often hesitate to make a Living Will or Advance Medical Directive because they fear that if they indicate they do not want to be kept alive by mechanical means, a feeding tube, or cardiac resuscitation, then the doctor will not try to save them if they have a heart attack or are in an accident. However, this is not the case nor the purpose of a Living Will. A Living Will is only effective when an individual is incompetent and is also in a state of permanent unconsciousness or an end-stage medical condition. An end-stage medical condition is defined as:
“one in which an incurable and irreversible medical condition in an advanced state caused by injury, disease or physical illness that will, in the opinion of the attending physician to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, result in death, despite the introduction or continuation of medical treatment. Except as specifically set forth in an advance health care directive, the term is not intended to preclude treatment of a disease, illness or physical, mental, cognitive or intellectual condition, even if incurable and irreversible and regardless of severity, if both of the following apply:
(1) The patient would benefit from the medical treatment, including palliative care.
(2) Such treatment would not merely prolong the process of dying.” 20 Pa.C.S.§5422.
By executing a Living Will you are not precluding medical treatment when it would save your life, but only when there is a reasonable certainty by a medical professional that the treatment would be futile or only serve to prolong your life. For example, if an individual suffered a heart attack while walking down the street and was then taken to a hospital, a physician would still make every effort to save the individual’s life even if he/she had executed a Living Will. In addition to communicating your personal reasons for wanting or not wanting to receive certain life-sustaining measures or treatment should you be unable to communicate these decisions later, you are also relieving your family from having to make these decisions for you. The Pennsylvania Healthcare Statute provides for a priority order (spouse, child, parent…) as to who may act as a health care representative in the absence of a designated individual. Making end-of-life decisions for another individual can put a tremendous burden on family members who may feel guilty or worry that they will make a decision that would be against the incompetent individual’s own wishes. Although there is a priority order as to who will be appointed to make medical decisions on behalf of an incompetent person if there is not already a designated healthcare agent or guardian in place, this may not be the person that the individual would have chosen him/herself.
By Executing a Living Will you are not only making your own end-of-life wishes known to family members, but also relieving them of having to make difficult decisions on your behalf. If you wish to create a Living Will or Advance Medical Directive, please contact McAndrews Law Offices at 610-648-9300.