what is a Living Will and why is it important?

living willA little while ago, my dad and stepmom sent all of us kids an email informing us that they had signed “DNR”s. A “DNR” is a “do not resuscitate” order. This means that there are to be no excessive measures taken to prolong life in the event breathing stops or the heart stops beating.

Now this may seem macabre at first read but I, for one, really appreciated the information. In total, with this blended family, there are five kids and nine almost adult grandkids. If something were to happen and the decision of what to do next fell to us, how do you get fourteen people to agree on something as heavy as someone’s life. Especially the life of someone you love.

This is where a living will becomes a gift you need to give yourself and your loved ones.

A living will clearly, and legally, outline YOUR wishes for care and treatment in the event that you are no longer able to communicate. Through a living will, you can outline types of treatment you do or do not want to receive, avoid unnecessary suffering and relieve your loved ones of the decision making burden during a time of grief. A living will also prevents confusion or disagreements about what others feel your choices would be.

Areas you may like to include direction on in a living will are:

Resuscitation If breathing stops or the heart stops beating, would you want CPR or a shock from a defibulator?

Mechanical Breathing and Tube Feeding If you were unable to perform these tasks on your own, would you want the medical assistance of a ventilator or feeding tube? If so, how long are you willing to breathe and be fed in this manner?

Antibiotics, Dialysis and other life saving medications If you were near the end of life and these treatments or medications would only prolong your life with no gain in quality of life, would you want to receive treatment or let the infection or disease run its course.

It’s important to note that a living will supercedes a power of attorney. When it comes to your health care, a power of attorney can only act on your behalf if something comes up that is not covered in your living will. Your power of attorney cannot overrule your living will.

A living will takes effect only when a doctor has declared you incapable of making health care decisions or you cannot communicate orally, in writing or with gestures. A living will ends with death.

Again, this may seem a very macabre subject but it needs to be discussed. Medical advancements are happening at an alarming rate and we have become very good at keeping people alive. Sometimes, even when we shouldn’t.

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  1. I strongly believe that these decisions need to be made while we still can. Having things outlined definitely makes things easier for our loved ones. They can then be assured that they are acting on our wishes. Macabre or not, illness and death are part of life and need to be prepared for.

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