Sudden, serious illnesses and injuries commonly cause people physical incapacity, mental incapacity or both. When those in such circumstances need lifesaving treatment or end-of-life care, they generally cannot make decisions or express them for themselves. Consequently, their families and health care teams may have to surmise what they would do.
Through a living will, a person has the ability to express his or her wishes regarding the types of treatment and care they would and would not want.
According to MayoClinic.org, a living will addresses decisions regarding the use of various medical treatments and interventions. For instance, this includes cardiopulmonary resuscitation to restart a heart that stopped beating, mechanical ventilation to breathe for someone unable to breathe on their own, and providing fluids and nutrients intravenously or through a stomach tube. In addition to expressing whether they would want such treatment, people may also specify the circumstances under which they would or would not want specific types of care.
Through their living wills, people may express their preferences for palliative care. Such care includes the interventions and other things used to help maintain comfort at the end of life. For example, this includes not wanting invasive testing, wishing to die at home instead of at a hospital or other care facility, and receiving pain medication to help ease suffering.
According to the New Jersey Department of Health, instruction directives should also include a general description of people’s beliefs and preferences. Expressing their values and wishes for lifesaving or end-of-life medical treatment and care allows people to guide their health care teams, even if they did not specifically address a situation in their living wills.
Using advance directives and other estate planning tools, such as living wills, people may make choices for themselves, even when they cannot speak for themselves.