What Is a Living Will?


General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The American Bar Association explained living wills in the "Estate Planning FAQ's" section of its website (accessed on June 9, 2006):

"A living will is your written expression of how you want to be treated in certain medical conditions. Depending on state law, this document may permit you to express whether or not you wish to be given life-sustaining treatments in the event you are terminally ill or injured, to decide in advance whether you wish to be provided food and water via intravenous devices ('tube feeding'), and to give other medical directions that impact the end of life. 'Life-sustaining treatment' means the use of available medical machinery and techniques, such as heart-lung machines, ventilators, and other medical equipment and techniques that will sustain and possibly extend your life, but which will not by themselves cure your condition. In addition to terminal illness or injury situations, most states permit you to express your preferences as to treatment using life-sustaining equipment and/or tube feeding for medical conditions that leave you permanently unconscious and without detectable brain activity.

A living will applies in situations where the decision to use such treatments may prolong your life for a limited period of time and not obtaining such treatment would result in your death. It does not mean that medical professionals would deny you pain medications and other treatments that would relieve pain or otherwise make you more comfortable. Living wills do not determine your medical treatment in situations that do not affect your continued life, such as routine medical treatment and non life-threatening medical conditions. In all states the determination as to whether or not you are in such a medical condition is determined by medical professionals, usually your attending physician and at least one other medical doctor who has examined you and/or reviewed your medical situation. Most states permit you to include other medical directions that you wish your physicians to be aware of regarding the types of treatment you do or do not wish to receive."

June 9, 2006 - American Bar Association (ABA) 

John Scroggin, JD, LLM, Attorney at Scroggin & Company, P.C. wrote in his Aug., 2005 article entitled "Planning For Medical Decisions" that appeared in Practical Lawyer:

"A living will is a declaration not to provide life-sustaining treatment if there is no significant hope of recovery. It is only operative when its maker can no longer make medical decisions... Clients are well advised to sign written documents that are consistent with the state statutes in their state of residence. Failure to sign a proper living will may result in family conflicts over the client's declared intentions (such as the Schiavo case in Florida) and necessitate litigation to discern what the client wanted...

Every state has adopted legislation allowing individuals to state their intent not to receive advanced medical treatment or life sustaining treatment in certain situations. The Act [Uniform Health Care Decisions Act, which was adopted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 1993] provides that living wills can be oral or written, as well as a statutory form which is a combined living will and healthcare power of attorney. The Act's form provides the following language:

'I do not want my life to be prolonged if (i) I have an incurable and irreversible condition that will result in my death within a relatively short time, (ii) I become unconscious and, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, I will not regain consciousness, or (iii) the likely risks and burdens of treatment would outweigh the expected benefits.

The form permits the signer to separately declare whether he or she wants to receive nourishment and hydration."

Aug. 2005 - John Scroggin, JD, LLM 

Angela Fagerlin, PhD, Core Faculty Member of the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar Program at the University of Michigan Medical School, and Carle E. Schneider, JD, Chauncey Stillman Professor for Ethics, Morality, and the Practice of Law at the University of Michigan Law School, wrote in their Mar.-Apr. 2004 article "Enough: The Failure of the Living Will" that appeared in the Hastings Center Report:

"Living wills are a bioethical idea that has passed from controversy to conventional wisdom, from the counsel of academic journals to the commands of law books, from professors' proposal to professional practice. Advance directives generally are embodied in federal policy by the Patient Self-Determination Act, which requires medical institutions to give patients information about their state's advance directives. In turn, the law of every state provides for advance directives, almost all states provide for living wills...

At the level of principle, living wills have triumphed among the public as among the princes of medicine. People widely say they want a living will... Despite this, and despites decades of urging, most Americans lack them. While most of us who need one have a property will, roughly 18 percent have living wills. The chronically or terminally ill are likelier to prepare living wills than the healthy, but even they do so fitfully. In one study of dialysis patients, for instance, only 35 percent had a living will, even though all of them thought living wills a 'good idea.'"

Mar.-Apr. 2004 - Angela Fagerlin, PhD 
Carl E. Schneider, JD