Babies, Hospitals, and The Living Will

Last week my wife and I were temporarily living at children’s hospital with my 18 month old. She had a spell of the stomach virus that’s going around and she needed I.V. fluids for a few days to rehydrate because she could not keep anything down. She’s fine now. The virus ran its course and she’s back to chasing the dog and writing with crayon on the white furniture.

The reason I’m sharing this is because when I was filling out the hospital paperwork, there was a checkbox for “do you have a living will.” Obviously an 18 month old is not going to have that document, but the point here is that this has become a standard question from medical providers. So standard that it is even in use at the Children’s Hospital where most of the patients are under 18.

So, what is a Living Will and what does it do?

A Living Will applies when a person’s medical condition becomes irreversible and terminal. It is a declaration stating that if one is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of regaining consciousness, then in such event he or she refuses artificially life-prolonging measures which serve only to prolong the process of dying (such as feeding tubes and respirators – pain killers are still administered). The intent expressed by the individual making the Living Will is that he or she wishes to die naturally. Below is actual language from a Living Will:

“For this declaration to take effect, my attending physician must determine that there can be no recovery from my terminal or vegetative condition, and that either my death is imminent or I can no longer experience a meaningful life.”

Many people remember the case of Terry Schiavo. Terry suffered extreme brain damage and became comatose. Her condition was found to be permanently vegetative with no hope of regaining consciousness. She was incapacitated and unable to survive without a feeding tube. Her husband, as her legal guardian, battled with her family for 15 years in the courts to allow Terry to die naturally. This became global news and a lead case in the estate planning arena. But here’s the thing most people don’t remember about Terry. She was 26 years old when she became incapacitated.

Key takeaways:
• Living Wills are for everyone over 18 – the leading cases in this area are mostly people in their 20’s
• Medical providers ranging from hospitals to primary physicians are now requesting this document as a standard question on intake forms.
• Living Wills are not standard forms and you should speak to an attorney specializing in this area to draft a Living Will that is consistent with your beliefs

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