A living will is a document drawn up a person specifying what medical steps they wish to be taken if they are rendered incapable of voicing their own opinion by a terminal illness or injury. When a person is in a coma, too mentally damaged to make a decision or otherwise not able to make their own decisions, a living will can direct physicians how to proceed.
Florida does not have firm guidelines for how to draw up a living will, giving people considerable discretion in drawing up their documents. You should include as much detail as you feel necessary to ensure your wishes are carried out. This can be done without the help of an attorney, though you may wish to consult one if you want to make sure all your wording is correct. A living will may be oral or written.
In general, you will specify the steps you want to be taken when two physicians have agreed that your condition is hopeless. You may wish to specify whether or not you want life-sustaining procedures to be continued. These are defined as anything which prolongs your life without remedying the condition, such as:
• Intravenous nutrition such as food or liquids
• Artificial respiration
You can go into as much detail as you feel necessary about any life sustaining procedure. You may specify that you want some procedures but not others. Alternately, you may specify set periods to keep life sustaining procedures going before they are withdrawn.
Additional things you may wish to detail:
• Your quality of life expectations, specifying at what point you would feel it was not worth while to continue life sustaining procedures
• Any treatments you would find too burdensome to consent to
• Religious beliefs that require certain procedures to be carried out
• Whether any or all of your organs may be used after your death
• Whether you wish to be kept alive if you are pregnant and there is a chance the baby can be delivered
When drawing up a document, do not sign it until two witnesses are present. At least one of these witnesses cannot be a relative or spouse. Provide signatures, the date and address of all concerned. You may choose to revoke or amend the terms of your living will at any time, either in writing or orally. If you decide to do so, make an effort to destroy all copies of any living will you wish to revoke to prevent confusion.
Some people may wish to appoint a person to make decisions on their behalf if they are rendered incapable of doing so. This person is known as a “health care surrogate.” Unlike a life will, this document must be made in writing.
It is advisable to make sure that this living will can be accessed easily in case of an emergency. You may wish to present your physician or a relative with a copy, or to carry a living will on your person at all times.