Gainesville elder and special needs attorney talks about living wills, who should have one, and why.
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“A living will is basically a document, and it needs to be a document. It has to be in writing, and it addresses three separate conditions that we find in medicine.
The first condition is a terminal condition, and a terminal condition is basically if you are at the end of your life, and the doctor has diagnosed you with a particular condition, usually cancer, and says you have ‘X’ number of months to live, and it’s very definite that your life is at the end. In that situation, you have to make a decision. Do you want to be resuscitated during that time? Do you want artificial hydration and nutrition to be options for your decision-maker to withdraw? That’s basically Part I of a living will.
Part II of a living will is an end-stage condition. If you are at the end of your life, but the doctor doesn’t know what’s going to kill you. Maybe you have heart failure. Maybe your liver’s not working right. Your kidneys are not working right. You’re sick, and you’re at the end of your life, and they know you’re at the end of your life, but they can’t tell you what it is that’s going to kill you. That is called an end-stage condition and again, the question during that time is: Do you want to be resuscitated? Do you want your life artificially prolonged, like on a ventilator? Do you want to have the option for your healthcare surrogate to be able to withdraw artificial hydration and nutrition?
The third condition is a persistent vegetative state, and that is the Terri Schiavo situation, and basically, what we see in that case is that there is no brain activity. When the physicians tell you there’s no brain activity for your mother, the question is: Do you have a living will so that you can withdraw artificial hydration if you don’t wish for that person to continue in that state, and sometimes people leave that person in that condition for a while to see if there’s recovery, but without a living will, you don’t have discretion to withdraw artificial hydration and nutrition in Florida. We encourage everybody to have a living will.”