No one likes to think about becoming extremely ill, whether we are young or old. Unfortunately, it can happen to any of us. The question is then, will your desires as to what life-sustaining measures will be used on you be honored?
- Do you want to be resuscitated if your heart stops?
- Do you want to receive blood or blood products?
- Do you want to have a feeding tube or other artificial form of nutrition or hydration?
- Do you want mechanical respiration (a breathing machine)?
- Do you want kidney dialysis?
- Do you want antibiotics?
- Do you want any form of surgery or invasive diagnostic tests?
To answer these questions, several years ago Pennsylvania legislators enacted Pennsylvanias Living Will law. Under this law, if you are of sound mind, eighteen years of age or older, or have graduated from high school or married, you can execute a declaration governing the initiation, continuation, or withholding or withdrawing of life-support treatment. The document must be signed by you or by someone else on your behalf and at your direction. It must also be witnessed by two other people who are age eighteen or older. In the document, you can also declare that a specific individual is able to make medical decisions for you if you are not able to do so for yourself.
The purpose of the living will law is to provide a legal means for you to declare your desires regarding the use of life support devices or extraordinary medical treatment before you reach a condition where you cannot make your desires known, such as if you are terminally ill or in a coma. With the creation of a living will, you relieve your family of the burden of deciding what medical treatment you would wish to have if you were able to make the decision for yourself. The creation of a living will is not a permanent decision, though. If you change your mind about any part of it, you can revoke that decision through communicating your decision to your doctor, other health care provider, or other witness to the revocation as long as you are competent to do so.
The law has special allowances for pregnant women. Regardless of whether the woman has a living will, the law requires the use of all life-sustaining treatment until the birth of the child, unless such treatment would be physically harmful to the woman, would lead to pain that medication could not alleviate, or would not allow the continuing development and birth of the unborn child. The state is required to pay for any such life support for terminally ill women.
To create a living will, it is recommended that you see your lawyer. You should also talk to your doctor. After you have created a living will, see that your doctor(s) have a copy of it, let your family know about it, and see that they have at least one copy, especially if you have named a surrogate medical-decision maker. The more people who know, the more likely it is that your wishes will be followed.