A living will is a document which specifies the medical steps a person wishes to be taken in the event that they are rendered incapable of making a decision. This can occur as the result of a injury or illness that places the person in a terminal condition, with no possible expectation of recovery. Since 2007, in Georgia living wills have become a section of a larger document known as an “advance directive for health care.” This multi-part document not only issues instructions but can also be used to appoint someone else to make decisions on your behalf.
The living will portion of the document will go into effect if attempts have been made to ascertain your wishes and have not met with success. The Georgia Department of Health has provided a template for people to use. There are two conditions under which your wishes will go into effect:
• Your condition is terminal, meaning you will die soon as the result of an incurable or irreversible condition.
• You have entered a permanent coma or are otherwise completely unresponsive to the environment around you.
There are three treatment options you may specify:
• You wish your life to be extended as long as possible, even if there is no hope of a cure, using such methods as intravenous feeding and artificial respiration.
• You wish for a natural death, meaning that all such life-sustaining measures will cease.
• You only wish for some life-sustaining measures to be taken.
Because these are very broad specifications, you are encouraged to specify in as much detail as necessary your wishes. For example:
• You may wish to specify a duration for life-sustaining measures to be taken before they are ceased
• You can detail which procedures and treatments you would find too burdensome to be undertaken
• You can define what you consider a reasonable quality of life and at one point you would no longer wish to receive life-sustaining measures
• If you are religious, detail any procedures you wish to be carried out
Women who are pregnant are not permitted to be taken off life-sustaining measures unless the fetus is no longer viable.
Two witnesses must be present when the living will is signed. Neither can be:
• Someone directly involved in your treatment
• Anyone you have appointed to act on your behalf to make medical decisions
• Anyone who will be inheriting anything from your estate after your death
One of the witnesses can be a medical employee at your facility as long as they are not directly involved in your care. Both witnesses must be at least 18 years of age.
Once this document has been created, it can be revoked at any time, either by destroying all copies or orally. It is advisable to make sure this document is easily accessible by giving your physician or a family member a copy. Some people may wish to carry a copy of this document with them in case of emergencies.