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Advanced Healthcare Directives, or Living Wills as they are known here in Idaho, are a crucial part of your Estate Planning, and your healthcare as a whole.

Do you remember Terri Schiavo? In 1990, Terri fell into a persistent vegetative state after having a heart attack. She was kept on a feeding tube and given extensive treatment for 8 years. Her husband then petitioned the court in Florida to have Terri’s feeding tube removed because he believed that is not what she would have wanted. Terri’s parents, on the other hand, wanted to keep their daughter alive at all costs. What ensued was a 7-year long court battle that included Congressional hearings over whether or not Terri’s feeding tube should be removed because she did not have a living will. In 2005, Terri’s feeding tube was removed, and she passed away 13 days later.

This was not the first case, nor has it been the last case surrounding living wills, but it was certainly the most publicized, and drawn out. Living Wills are the means of preventing this type of heartache and confusion in your family.

So what is a Living Will? Well, the name is a bit of a misnomer. Here in the office, we call it “Instructions To Let Me Die” because that is what the document is.

A Living Will is instructions to the doctors and you loved ones in case you are unable to communicate your wishes with regards to your medical care, and If you have an injury or illness that is terminal + your life is being artificially prolonged by life-sustaining procedures + doctors have determined your death is imminent regardless of life-sustaining procedures, OR you are in a persistent vegetative state = Your wishes expressed on your Living Will take effect

These are a very specific set of circumstances. It doesn’t mean that if you get diagnosed with a terminal illness, that you are denying treatment. It just means that if you meet all of those factors above and can’t express your wishes with regards to medical treatment, you’ve provided instructions in the form of your Living Will.

Living Wills provide a spectrum of 3 options for your care, so we are going to talk about the two ends of the spectrum first. Regardless of which set of guidelines you choose, keep in mind that you will be kept pain free and kept out of distress.

  1. The first option is “keep me alive at all costs.” This option provides that you not only be kept pain and distress free, but the medical staff should do everything necessary to sustain your life including providing you with food and water.
  2. The second, middle option is the “feed and water me” spectrum of options. This option provides that you be kept comfortable, but no extraordinary measures are taken to preserve your life. It does ask however that you only be kept hydrated, fed, or both.
  3. Option three is the “Let me go” option. This option directs medical staff to disconnect you from any artificial means of keeping you alive, including food and water. They will keep you comfortable and pain-free, and let the winds of fate chart your course.

No one likes thinking about their death, and as much as a Living Will is your healthcare choices, it is also about taking an incredibly hard and emotional decision out of the hands of your loved ones, which is a tremendous gift.