Living wills notifies others about the medical treatment you wish to receive or refuse if you become terminally ill or permanently comatose and incapable of communicating your decisions. Duly ratified state laws regulate all living wills in the United States – except New York, Michigan and Massachusetts living wills.
These statutes aim to safeguard a person’s right to say no to medical interventions. In most states, these documents are legally binding and can assure that an attending physician who implements patient’s wishes will be free from any liability.
What is a Living Will?
A living will is a written document that is legally binding and would take effect only when the creator becomes incapacitated to make autonomous and informed decisions about his or her medical care. If you decide to make one, you can specifically express your wishes with regard to what types of treatment you want to receive or decline.
A lot of people prefer to steer clear of life-sustaining interventions that only function in prolonging life without improving its quality. They can definitely make their objections clear by writing a living will. On the other hand, individuals who want to express their preference to receive all types of medical treatment – to sustain life and consequently delay death – may do so through this legal document.
The instructions – or advanced directives – contained in a living will are typically designed to take effect if you fall into any of the following circumstances:
1) terminal illness
2) persistent vegetative state (PVS) or permanent coma
3) conscious yet with permanent brain damage and will in no way recover the capacity to make autonomous decisions and/or convey your wishes
In the creation of a living will, the common law states that for as long as the person is competent to determine for himself/herself, he or she possesses the right of self-determination. It basically means that only the person can decide what type of treatment will be done unto him or her. Integrated into the right of self-determination is the right to accept/decline medical intervention.
Courts all over the country have maintained that the advance directives or living will drawn up by an able individual should be respected even when he or she is no longer considered competent. In 1990, the Supreme Court released a definition of what a “competent person” really is. According to the statement, he or she has the autonomy to refuse treatment under the constitution’s due process clause.
Although it is common to see advanced directives that attempt to cover a wide range of situations, it is still a better idea to express your health care wishes specifically. You may even spell the words out in the document or plan a small discussion with your health care team about the matter.
The substantiation of both written and verbal proof aids in ensuring that your wishes will actually be carried out. Some examples of common interventions that you should deal with include artificial hydration and nutrition, cardiac resuscitation, mechanical ventilation, pain medications, antibiotics, etc.
Massachusetts living wills possess the same features as that of a standard living will. However, due to the lack of state laws that govern the creation of application of this legal document, certain features may be absent.
Then again, what matters the most is not the add-ons but the typical functions and benefits they offer.