A living will is a legal document that makes your wishes regarding life-prolonging medical treatments known to your family and your doctors. It can also be referred to as an advance directive, health care directive, or a physician's directive. It is important to have a living will as it informs your health care providers and your family about your desires for medical treatment in the event you are not able to speak for yourself.
Generally, a living will describes certain life-prolonging treatments. You indicate which treatments you do or do not want applied to you in the event you either suffer from a terminal illness or are in a permanent vegetative state. A living will does not become effective unless you are incapacitated; until then you'll be able to say what treatments you do or don't want.
For situations where you are incapacitated and therefore not able to speak for yourself, you should appoint someone with power of attorney. This is a legal document that gives someone else the authority to make healthcare decisions for you in the event you are incapacitated. The person you designate to make health care decisions on your behalf is supposed to consider what you would want, so be sure to talk with them about it. It may be a difficult conversation, but you're asking someone to take on a great burden for you - letting him or her know what you want lessens that burden.
None of these documents will do you any good if no one knows about them. You have to talk with your doctor and the person you designate with power of attorney. Discuss with your doctor what kinds of end-of-life medical treatments you want. He or she can help you by answering any questions you have about certain treatments. Once you've decided what it is you do or don't want, make your wishes known to your doctor and your family.
The My Choices booklet produced by Wyoming Medical Center can help. If you are having difficulty completing the forms, we are happy to sit down and help you, just call us at (307) 577-4832.