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Life and Health


By January 1, 2010No Comments

Have you given much thought to the decisions your family might have to make when contemplating life-sustaining medical treatment for you, in the event you are unable to make your own decision? Have you communicated how you feel about life-support systems for the terminally ill? Mostly everyone agrees it is not an easy subject to contemplate. However, it is important to recognize there are steps you can take now to help quantify your thoughts and wishes on the subject. By doing so, you will provide your loved ones with some concrete guidelines in case such decisions become necessary.

A Closer Look at a Living Will

At the present time, nearly every state has passed some form of law dealing with the requirements for living wills or health care proxies. A health care proxy allows you to designate someone to make decisions on your behalf. On the other hand, a living will usually allows you to specify the particular types of treatment you would like to have provided or withheld. Each state has its own set of requirements.

If you are unable to direct your own care, a living will is a medical directive written in advance that sets forth your preference for treatment. The document can be set up to include when the directive should begin, and who has the decision-making responsibility to withdraw or withhold treatment. In addition to respecting your wishes, the living will can help provide clarity and alleviate feelings of guilt experienced by those faced with the responsibility of making important decisions for loved ones.

Even more far-reaching is a federal law that requires all Medicare and Medicaid providers to inform patients over age 18 of their medical directive rights. You might have even received information on this topic, since the law also requires increased emphasis on community outreach and education.

The federal law, known as the Patient Self-Determination Act, impacts virtually every health maintenance organization (HMO), hospital, and nursing home nationwide. It is important to recognize that the law doesn’t mandate that health care providers require their patients to have a living will. Instead, it necessitates health care providers to supply written information about a patient’s rights to make decisions about medical treatment, including the right to make an advanced determination about life-sustaining medical treatment, and to record whether the patient has done so.

At this time, it appears most of these organizations have realized this question can most appropriately be handled when a patient is admitted. Consequently, the next time you are admitted to a hospital, even for a very minor procedure, don’t be surprised if you are given information about these rights and are asked to fill out a form that asks whether you have a living will.

The living will is a legal document and each state has its own specific requirements. It is best to consult with a qualified legal professional when creating a living will. The professional assistance will ensure you understand what a living will can provide and what has to be done to assure its validity.