What is a Living Will?
A living will is one of the most common types of advance directives. Advanced directives are instructions that individuals can leave for family members and / or medical care providers detailing what type of medical care they would like in the event that they fall into a state where they can no longer make their own medical decisions (ie. falling into a coma). These directives also detail the extent of medical care the patient is comfortable with receiving.
The details of living wills can vary widely from incredibly specific to general in nature. A general living will may state nothing more than that a person does not wish to receive life-saving measures if they are diagnosed with an incurable illness or condition. More specific living wills, alternately, may specify which medications the patient will or will not receive, which procedures they do or do not want, limitations on food and water, etc.
Exact laws and regulations vary in the United States from state to state regarding what types of advanced directives are legal. Living wills are accepted in most states. In the states where they are not recognized, however, there are very similar documents in place.
If a medical care provider is aware of a patient’s wishes as detailed in a living will and knowingly chooses to disobey these requests, he or she could be charged with medical malpractice. To ensure that your wishes are honored, make sure that you not only establish a living will, but that you discuss its contents thoroughly with your family and with your primary health care provider.