March 21, 2005
"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted..." -- Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
As Terri Schiavo's fate hangs in the balance, it's heartbreaking to think that the spectacle her case has become could've been prevented by a living will.
Every adult should have one, not just the elderly, because serious illness can strike anyone at anytime. The last thing you want is for your loved ones guessing what your final wishes are during a vulnerable stage in your life.
A living will is a specific power of attorney, a legally recognized document which at a minimum indicates two things. First, the name of the health care agent or surrogate who will be making the health decisions for you when you can no longer communicate it yourself. This can be anyone: a spouse, relative, neighbor or friend. It's important to choose a person that you feel will faithfully carry out your wishes.
Second, a living will indicates specific directives from you as to desired treatment or refusal of treatment regarding certain conditions. It helps to be specific about your instructions; for example, under what circumstances do you want or do not want artificial nutrition, hydration or respiration.
Living wills are governed by the laws from each state and may vary accordingly, but in most states, your wishes will be followed if you have one. A living will usually has to be witnessed and notarized to be legally binding.
I generally recommend that my clients seek legal advice when preparing their living will because specific verbiage can make a difference. However, having a simple document is better than nothing at all and simple living wills can be found online for as little as five dollars.
In addition to a living will, it doesn't hurt to clearly communicate your wishes to your physician, surrogate and loved ones. Matters of life or death are difficult to discuss, but the financial and emotional cost of not doing so is too high. Consider it a final gift to those you love, the gift of knowing they are doing right by you, perhaps for the final time.
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Wonky Muse is the other Filipino American female political blogger. The sane, liberal one.
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