Living Wills Keep End-of-Life Care Burdens Off of Your Family

In 1990 Terri Schiavo was living a happy life until she collapsed at her home and suffered serious brain damage. After being in a coma for two months, doctors diagnosed her state to vegetative. Since Schiavo did not have a living will outlining her wishes in regards to life support, her parents and husband each fought for different sides that they believed Schiavo wanted. Both parties filled numerous petitions and underwent many court hearings until 2005 when a decision was made to remove her feeding tube.

Schiavo’s case highlights the burden that can be created on family when no living will is created. If Schiavo would have had a living will in place, her parents and husband would have known her wishes and not had to go through intensive court battles for 15 years.

Understanding a Living Will

A living will, also known as a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, allows you to maintain control over your personal health care in situations where you are unable to personally convey your wishes. It leaves the decisions in your own hands, and makes your wishes clear regarding whether or not life support will be used to keep you alive in the case of a terminal condition, permanent coma, or persistent vegetative state.

In addition to clarifying when life support should or should not be used to extend your life, you can also use a living will to specify in which situations you wish to receive food and water from a feeding tube, and when you wish to be provided with comfort care (i.e.: when to receive medication for the purpose of alleviating pain, but which does not artificially extend your life).

Aside from a desire to retain control over your own health care decisions, the strongest argument in favor of having a living will is that it removes the burden of end-of-life care from your family.

Often, the family of a patient suffering from a permanent coma, persistent vegetative state, or other terminal condition is unsure of what measures they should take to continue that person's life. As the Schiavo case illustrated, family members will not always agree about what path should be taken. This can sometimes lead to lengthy court battles, at a time when the family should be at the patient's bedside.

By drafting a living will in advance, you can save your family from this stress, should you ever be in such a situation. Whether you want to extend your life indefinitely, or prefer to let nature do what it may, a living will makes your wishes clear to your family--and keeps the burden of your end-of-life care off of them.


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