A Will to Live vs A Living Will
One of the health care documents we are required to have by state law is an advanced healthcare directive such as a Living Will. The first living will was conceived in 1967 by Luis Kutner, a human-rights lawyer in Chicago and cofounder of Amnesty International, in conjunction with the Euthanasia Society of America (now called Partnership for Caring). Living wills were distributed by the Euthanasia Society, and in addition to their practical use, they served as a way of promoting education and dialogue about end-of-life issues.
South Carolina requires all citizens to have an Advanced Health Care Directive. There are two types of Advance Directives:
- Living Will: The Death with Dignity Act authorizes competent adults to express their wishes regarding the use or withholding of life-sustaining procedures, including artificial nutrition and hydration, in the event they are diagnosed with a terminal condition or are in a state of permanent unconsciousness and in the further event that they are incapacitated or otherwise unable to express their desires.
- Health Care Power of Attorney: Sections within the South Carolina Probate Code authorize competent adults to designate another person to make decisions on their behalf about their medical care in the event they become incapacitated.
What most people do not realize is that signing a Living Will states, “If I should be in an incurable or irreversible mental or physical condition with no reasonable expectation of recovery, I direct my attending physician to withhold or withdraw treatment that merely prolongs my dying.” This is broad indeed. It leaves the decision up to the doctor or courts.
If you walk with a limp that can’t be corrected, you have an “irreversible … physical condition.” If you have grown forgetful, with some irretrievable memory loss, you may well have an “incurable … mental condition.” If either of these happens to you, and–having signed the “Living Will Declaration”–you become unable to speak for yourself, that means you will be deprived of all medical treatment and food and water (possibly including what you could be spoon fed) except pain medication and treatment to keep you “comfortable.” Any irreversible disability qualifies as a basis for death.
The term “merely prolongs my dying” may sound as though it limits this, but it really doesn’t. No time frame is given, and the truth is that we are all “dying.” Literally every life-saving medical treatment “prolongs dying,” in the legal sense.
For example, if have a “terminal condition” and you cannot eat or drink on your own, you would normally be given fluids through an IV for fluids to sustain your body. If you have signed a “Do Not Resuscitate” statement, you may not be given the IV fluids as it is a surgical procedure that may prolong your life.
Instead of signing a Living Will, you should opt to sign a Will to Live. A Will to Live is for those who don’t want medical technology to prolong your last hours, but who also doesn’t want to be starved or allowed to die just because you have a disability, your wishes will be far more likely to be respected if you sign a properly prepared Will to Live than if you sign a living will.
The WILL TO LIVE is a legal document that you can sign which:
- Is a legally binding pro-life alternative to the traditional Living Wills
- Names someone to make health care decisions for you (your “heath care agent’) if you develop a condition that makes it impossible for you to speak for yourself (become “incompetent”), and
- Makes clear (in the form of written instructions to your health care agent) what medical treatment you would want if you can no longer speak for yourself
How Does the WILL TO LIVE protect your life and the lives of your family members?
When you are unable to speak for yourself the WILL TO LIVE:
- Names someone you trust to safeguard your life when you cannot speak for yourself as your “health care agent”
- Names backup agents if your first choice can’t serve
- Describes the treatment you do and do not want to guide your health care agent and physicians
- Protects your family and health care agent from pressure from health care providers and others by allowing them to prove what you really did want
- Relieves the agony of decision making for them by making your wishes clear