A “Living Will” and/or an “Advanced Health Care Directive” is the modern combination of what used to be contained in two separate documents called “Living Wills” (see above, no. 2 (c)) and “Advanced Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care”. The modern Advanced Health Care Directive (“AHCD”) combined the functions of both the old documents and allows you to do more than simply provide instructions to doctors regarding your medical treatment at the end of your life; additionally, an AHCD lets you name a person to make decisions when you can’t and to oversee that your instructions to doctors are being faithfully carried out. Such end of life issues generally include things like pain medication, life support machines, “heroic” life-saving measures, comas, etc.
Two practical issues worth considering are:
(A) If death is imminent, do you want pain medication even though the medication may hasten your death by a few hours or a few days? Typically, doctors will not give pain medication that may hasten your death, regardless of how much pain you are in, because they are afraid of being sued. Doctors have gone to jail for doing what they thought was the humane thing. A properly drafted Advanced Health Care Directive gives doctors legal permission to provide any pain medication you may need to ease your suffering at the end of your life.
(B) What happens if your spouse and some other member of your family disagree about your end of life health care decisions? Who should the doctor listen to? When faced with such a conflict many doctors will do nothing. A properly drafted Advance Health Care Directive appointing an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf ensures that your wishes are honored and relieves the burden from family members who may be plagued with uncertainty about what decisions to make.