The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys has posted an article stressing the importance of having a living will (sometimes called a life support statement) drawn up.
While the spotlight this time last year on the Terri Schiavo case brought forth a great deal of discussion generated about life and death issues, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) stresses that the preparation of advance directives (living will, health care power of attorney and health care proxy) is extremely important for everyone over the age of 18. According to a Dec 2004 NAELA survey of elder issues, only one third of adults 35-49 have a living will.
In addition, it's important to note the differences from state to state in requirements for advance directives. (See below.)
NAELA advises consumers to consider five key questions when speaking with an elder law attorney about a living will, health care power of attorney and health care proxy:
1. Who will serve as your Agent for Health Care? Who will serve as the alternate?
2. Are there certain medical treatments or pain control measures you want or don't want?
3. Do you wish to take or refuse any medication that may reduce or eliminate the ability to communicate?
4. Do you have any particular directions regarding specific health care facilities, religious preferences, disposition of your body, donation of bodily parts for transplant or research, etc?
5. What directions will you provide related to end-of life decisions specifically regarding:
* if you can no longer eat, drink or breathe on your own;
* if you cannot function independent of machines;
* if you are confined to bed; if you have no cognitive ability.
Without a living will and other documents, would your spouse, children or parents know what you would want? Would they make the same decisions you would if you haven't put them in writing? Would they feel comfortable sustaining your existence in a vegetative state or if you could not communicate with them? Would they know if you would or would not want to continue living if you were to lose major physical or mental capacity? These are tough decisions to make under any circumstances and especially tough under duress.
What is a Living Will?
A living will is a statement of how an individual would like to be treated in the event that he or she is unable to make decisions regarding the use of life sustaining medical treatment. A living will does not always order the withdrawal or withholding of life sustaining measures for a severely ill person. A living will can ask for continuous medical treatment regardless of an individual's medical condition. An individual may also assert that life-sustaining treatment be withheld or withdrawn if certain conditions are present.
You can read the rest of the article, including information about the different state requirements, here.