The living will is a legal document that allows an individual to state in advance his unwillingness to be subjected to life-sustaining medical measures once there is no chance of recovery. Such a document relieves others of the legal and emotional burden of making such decisions.
For example, it can ease a doctor's fears of civil or criminal liability, since he is abiding by his patient's wishes in withholding or withdrawing life-prolonging treatment. It can ease the stress and emotional pain for the family, which might otherwise be faced with having to make a most difficult decision as to what their loved one would have wanted. Further, it offers some hope of avoiding the legal battles that have occurred when a medical facility is unsure of its responsibility to the patient, and thus provides the family some protection from the financial devastation that a protracted death can cause.
Almost all of the states have some form of legislation governing living wills. Generally such a document must be in writing, dated, and witnessed by two persons who are not family members or possible heirs. The document must usually be notarized if a durable power of attorney is included giving another person the power to make medical treatment decisions (see discussion, page 411). In addition, language can be included providing for organ donation.
Copies of the living will should be given to close relatives, the family doctor and the family attorney. Both the living will and the durable power of attorney can be revoked at any time by either destroying all copies or by executing a signed and notarized statement revoking the prior document.
See also, Health Care Power Of Attorney, page 441.