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If you have a will ...

Here's the way to ensure your health directives are carried out

Whose life is it anyway? It's yours, and you should have he right to live without the fear that you will be hooked up to life-support machines should you become incapacitated. But unless you've specified what your wishes are under these circumstances, and there is a way to make your wishes known, your family members will be left to determine the manner in which you should live--or die.

"Too many times I've seen families forced to make difficult, heartrending decisions about end-of-life care because the patient's living will was not available," says Dr. Joseph T. Barmakian, a board-certified New Jersey orthopedic surgeon. But that doesn't have to happen to your family. You can develop advance directives so that your family, as well as your physician, knows exactly what your preferences are should you suffer a debilitating illness.

There are basically two types of directives. The first is a living will, which allows you to specify the type of healthcare you want in the event of incapacitation. The second is a healthcare proxy, which allows you to designate someone to make decisions about your healthcare in the event that you cannot. Given these options, there's no excuse for keeping your loved ones in the dark about your healthcare preferences.

To give individuals the security of knowing that their advance directives will be available whenever and wherever needed, Barmakian founded the U.S. Living Will Registry in 1996. This flee, nationwide registry electronically stores advance directives and gives all hospitals access to them 24 hours a day through an advanced computer-fax system. Each person's privacy is protected from the moment they apply through to the retrieval process. To ensure additional confidentiality, the registry is not accessible on the Internet. It is only available at hospitals. Adds Barmakian, "Questions such as whether a person should be placed on a ventilator or be fed intravenously to prolong their life or [whether their organs should be donated] in the event of death can be very difficult and stressful decisions for family members to make. Having the living will available at such a time allows the patient to receive the kind of care they want while relieving their family of this burden."

Each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws that acknowledge the use of advance directives. Both federal and state laws govern the use of a living will. In fact, the Patient Self-Determination Act, a federal law, requires healthcare facilities that receive Medicaid and Medicare funds to inform patients of their right to execute advance directives.

"Every state has a different law. New York does not recognize a living will, but it does recognize a healthcare proxy," says Barmakian. "However, your family member can look at your living will and make decisions based on that. With your living will, you write down specifics about what you want regarding healthcare. For your healthcare proxy, choose someone that you know and who knows your philosophy."

The added advantage of registering your living will is that in the event of an emergency, information regarding your nearest relative or friend is provided on the registry. If you are out of town or do not have any emergency contact information with you, your listing will make it easier for the hospital to reach your loved one.

To register for the U.S. Living Will Registry, you must be 18 years or older. Contact your local hospital or attorney, or visit the U.S. Living Will Registry Website at or call 800-LIV-WILL toll free.

Connected with living will Websites

Living Wills

For $5, state-specific living will forms are available from the legal counsel for the elderly at AARP.

The Living Will Center

A major new archive providing authoritative information about living wills and advance directives.

Advance Directives

Learn about options to create legal documents regarding your healthcare.
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Article Details
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Author:Royal, Leslie E.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2000
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