Guide to Maryland living wills
Living wills are documents which specify the wishes of someone who is incapable of expressing themselves because of unconsciousness or terminal illness. Maryland’s laws allow anyone who wishes to create a living will to draft their own. While the attorney general’s office provides a suggested form that people can easily complete with the help of a lawyer, it can be modified in whole or in part.
The sample form suggests that those creating a living will by writing about their goals and values behind their decisions regarding end-of-life care. You are then presented with the same three options for three different kinds of scenarios in which you may not be able to express your medical wishes:
• Two physicians agree that you are going to die shortly and no treatment can be expected to result in a cure
• You have entered a coma, known as a “permanent vegetative state,” and are not expected to recover consciousness
• An end-stage condition in which a condition reduces patients to a state of complete medical dependency, such as Alzheimer’s disease
For each of these conditions, you may choose one of three options:
• Request that all life-sustaining measures such as artificial respiration be discontinued, along with any intravenous nutrition
• Request that life-sustaining measures be discontinued except for intravenous nutrition
• Request that all life-sustaining measures be continued as long as possible
Women may complete an optional section below specifying what to do in a medical emergency if they are pregnant. Some may choose to request that they be kept alive if the fetus is still viable, though this is not required by Maryland law. Below this is a section known as the “effect of stated preferences.” This effectively allows any health care surrogate you appoint to make decisions on your behalf contradicting the stated preferences of a living will if they feel these are in your best medical interest, or instructs that your preferences should be followed no matter what.
Two witnesses must be present when you sign the document to attest that you are in sound mental health and were not forced to sign the will against your will. At least one of these witnesses must not be someone who would financially benefit from the death of the living will’s creator, as a heir or otherwise.
Additional optional sections can be completed or added on to specify whether you wish any or all organs to be donated for medical transplants, use in medical schools or other purposes. You may also specifically list which organs can be taken.
A lawyer is not necessary to complete a living will, though some people may wish to consult an attorney if they are extensively writing customized instructions. After completion, a living will can be revoked or replaced at any time. To make sure the living will can be easily found, you should give a copy to your physician or a relative, or carry a copy on your person at all times.