It’s become a common question now, and if you’ve been admitted to a hospital lately or have had a visit to the emergency room you have most likely had someone ask you if you have a Living Will. Why is that?
Well, your doctor can tell you what’s going on with you. He can tell you what labs and X-rays look good and which ones are cause for concern. He can write a prescription for you and tell you what to expect when you take this medication. He can tell you what changes to watch for and what to do when and if you see them. He can even tell you if you’re dying and when he’s done everything possible for you.
What he can’t tell you is: How do you want him to proceed with your care?
In the same way that a legal will tells your attorney how to manage and distribute your assets and resolve your debts, a Living Will tells health care providers how to take care of you. It answers such questions as:
• do you want to be fed by a tube – and does that include food or just water
• do you want to be put and/or kept on a ventilator
• do you want to be given regular medication by tube
• how do you want your pain managed
• do you want only comfort measures given (pain medication)
There is also a place for you to designate someone to make decisions for you if you are unable to do this for yourself.
Here are a few things to consider:
1. The time to do this is BEFORE you need it. Once you are too ill to speak for yourself, you have lost the ability to create a Living Will.
2. Not doing this means you are leaving these choices to your family members. This adds extra strain on them when they are already managing the stress of your illness.
3. If there are any issues of conflict among family members, having a Living Will can significantly reduce fights and bad feelings.
4. Having a Living Will lets you designate someone to speak for you. Don’t assume that the right person will be doing that!
5. Don’t assume that your family knows what you want. If you haven’t talked about it specifically, assume they don’t.
6. Having a Living Will that designates your wishes frees your family members from the guilt of making decisions they’re not sure about.
Everyone needs a Living Will. It has nothing to do with age or illness. It has everything to do with the fact that we live in a dangerous, unpredictable world, and we never know when something may happen to us or to a loved one.
People who have made Living Wills and shared them with their family say that it brings them peace knowing that those things are taken care of and that they haven’t left the burden of these choices to their families. That peace of mind and heart frees them to spend quality time with their family unburdened by loose ends and worry.
Medical technology has progressed at an amazing rate. That can be good and it can be bad. It can keep us alive indefinitely, but it can’t always improve our situation. It becomes a matter of quality of life vs. quantity. Only you can answer the question of what constitutes quality of life for you.
Don’t live in fear, just get informed and take the appropriate action. You’ll be very glad you did.
To help you, there is a booklet called Five Wishes that is a very simple form to use for indicating your healthcare wishes, and for designating a healthcare surrogate. It requires witnesses of your signature but does not have to be notarized. For more information and for a free copy of The Five Wishes booklet please contact our office at 1-800-495-5511.