In the wake of the Terry Schiavo controversy, the public at large has become very aware of the necessity for considering a Living Will. Also known as a Directive to Physicians, the Living Will is a document used to provide instructions directly to a doctor regarding a patient’s desires for being placed on life-support if that person ends up in either 1) a terminal condition or 2) an irreversible condition.
Like the forms for the different types of powers of attorney, the form for the Living Will has been prescribed by the Texas Legislature. It must be signed by the person issuing the instructions, and it must also be signed by two witnesses and a notary. On the face of the form, options are provided for either allowing or restricting life support. The form also provides definitions for what constitutes a “terminal” condition or an “irreversible” condition. Likewise, it defines what life support or “life sustaining treatment” is.
It is important for anyone contemplating creating a Living Will to understand a couple of things. First, the agent under the Medical Power of Attorney has the authority to make the decision whether or not to authorize or deny life support. Some people would prefer to have this decision made by a family member or loved one, while other people would prefer to leave the decision to a doctor rather than putting a family member through the turmoil of making such a difficult decision.
Second, inasmuch as the Living Will is a directive from a patient to the doctor, the only way that the doctor will know about the Living Will is for the doctor to have been supplied with a copy by you or a family member. Because many hospitalizations are not planned (i.e. emergencies), you should discuss your desires related to life support with your family members and friends so that they can act accordingly in the event of an unforeseen tragedy.
The creation of a Living Will is a very personal decision. Some people are strongly in favor of it, while others are opposed. When considering this decision, give careful consideration to the issues addressed above, and feel free to contact any of the lawyers at Ford+Bergner for more complete counsel on this issue.