I'm sure many readers have had the same experience as I. You go to see your physician for a routine checkup or some minor complaint, or you go into hospital for a simple procedure, only to be asked by one of the assistants whether you've made a 'living will' or so-called 'advance health care directive'. This is supposed to convey your wishes to medical personnel in the event that you are so severely injured, or so incapacitated by serious illness, that you're no longer able to do so. In particular, the 'living will' is supposed to guide medical personnel in any decision to continue or cease treatment, if your condition is so severe that recovery is considered extremely unlikely or impossible.
Unfortunately, the wording of such 'living wills' can hamstring your loved ones in the event of a medical emergency, in ways you might not have anticipated. This is partly because the 'legalese' in which they're written is complex and not always easily understood, and partly because, once they're signed, they may supersede the wishes of other family members. Blogger Pascal Fervor points out the difficulties.
I am not going to argue for or against living wills here. I am far more interested in bringing to public attention something I find unconscionable to keep to myself. Please read this and return.
Quite simply, this form's wording would permit complete strangers to prevent life-saving measures from being provided to the signer of this document. It would legally overrule everyone who actually loves and has an interest in protecting the patient. Should a family member or family physician protest, it would not matter. The standard form legally takes away all authority from them.
Example: You are in a car accident and wind up in a coma.
Attending doctor: “I don't think she'll survive. Better to withhold oxygen.”
Attending doctor's colleague: “I concur.”
Attending doctor to your husband: “Sorry, but it's what we think. Now even though your wife never knew me or our emergency room, she agreed to abide [by] our opinion. Legally. Buh-bye.”
There's more at the link. Highly recommended reading for anyone who's considering signing a 'living will', or who's already done so. (In the latter case, if you want to change it, you'll have to write formally to the doctor[s] and/or hospital[s] concerned, probably by registered or certified mail, informing them that you're withdrawing the earlier version of the 'living will' and substituting a re-worded one that provides greater protection to you. I recommend you insist that they destroy all copies of the previous 'living will' and certify to you, in writing, that they've done so.)
I'd like to add that in one particularly tragic case with which I was involved as a pastor, a woman who'd completed just such a 'living will' was involved in a car accident. The physicians at the hospital where she was taken for treatment declared her to be too severely injured to recover, and they proceeded to turn off life support even before her husband arrived. (He had to travel from another state.) Informed by telephone, he protested, and demanded time to arrange a second opinion. However, they refused to wait long enough for him to bring in another specialist. By the time he arrived and could make the necessary arrangements, life support had been switched off for several hours. His wife was already so brain-damaged as to be beyond help.
He called in another specialist anyway, who later informed him that he thought it likely his wife's condition might not have been so terminal as the original doctors inferred. However, her condition had deteriorated so much after removal of life support that it was no longer possible to save her - and the deterioration had also rendered it impossible to say for sure whether she might have recovered in the first place. The doctors responsible covered themselves by pointing to her 'living will', which authorized the termination of life support under such conditions. An attempted lawsuit against them failed for that reason.
Please, folks, don't inflict that sort of agony on your family. Check this out carefully, read Pascal Fervor's blog post about it, and take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from over-officious doctors!