A living will can:
- Permit the withholding of life-prolonging procedures, rather than merely a withdrawal, if it is a medical certainty that the patient would die without medical intervention.
- Allow the patient to clearly express their desires rather than relying on relatives to remember or guess what the patient would want.
- Free the patient’s family of the burden of making the decision and guilt associated with it.
So What Can A Living Will Not Do
A living will may not:
- Compel a specific type of treatment. A living will addresses withholding or withdrawing measures. The type of treatment a patient receives is a clinical decision made by their doctor, and may be influenced by other factors such as financial considerations, health history, etc.
- Authorize the refusal of basic nursing care, such as hygienic care, or prevent the nursing staff from offering a patient food and drink by mouth.
- Be used to commit suicide. A patient must already be dying and the use of life-prolonging measures would merely prolong the natural dying process.
- Be used as justification to complete unreasonable treatments, i.e., simply because a patient has a living will does not mean they can risk their life unnecessarily.
- Be used piecemeal. A living will is all or nothing. There is no weighing the burdens versus the benefits of a specific life-prolonging measure. The patient will either receive the measures or not based on the living will.