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So What Can A Living Will Do?

A living will can:

  1. 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.
  2. Allow the patient to clearly express their desires rather than relying on relatives to remember or guess what the patient would want.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.