Walking out of the ICU the other day, my mind was occupied by the thought of the patient who had just passed away . A proud, self-made man, he had leapt from obscurity to popularity on his own blood,sweat and tears. Surrounded by drips, lines and pumps he laid helplessly in the ICU bed, knowing that the end was nigh and that his will to survive had drawn on the last straw. The nurses sensed that and the doctors knew that; but we were all trained to keep him going. Deep inside, we were wondering if he knew about living wills…
A living will is quite different from a last will and testament which specifies beneficiaries and funeral arrangements. Quite simply, a living will speaks on your behalf when you are medically seriously ill and unable to communicate,such as when in a coma, and is a healthcare directive made in advance instructing medical personnel and family as to what medical treatment you wish to receive at end of life, including matters such as organ donation.
For doctors in attendance and family members, this relieves them from making agonizing decisions like when to turn off the respirator at end of life; or for that matter, whether to use that life support machine in the first place.
Living wills can also stipulate whether blood transfusions can be used, artificial feeding implemented or even the use of organ transplantation.
To make your living will legally binding:
* It must be witnessed by two people who are legal adults
* Witnesses must not be related to you in any way
* They cannot be beneficiaries of your estate
* They are not directly involved with your health care providers
* They have not been named as your agent in a medical power of attorney document or in your living will.
Signed copies of the living will should be handed to one’s personal doctor as well as close family members and need to be seen by the attending doctors at any possible end-of-life scenario. Take a look at a typical living will here.
Doctors encountering patients with living wills vary. In New Jersey,USA 1 in 6 adults have one. In Asia, the exception is the rule. But with increasing awareness of patient rights, an egalitarian society and the rising costs of end-of-life care, it would not be surprising, in the near future, to see more patients with a living will in hand. The dying, not doctors, should have the final say in the type of treatment they receive.
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