A living will is a document stating the wishes of a person in case they become terminally ill or are otherwise incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions. Missouri’s laws regarding living wills are much stricter than most states. Any living will that is drafted must include a paragraph of language that cannot be customized. This paragraph states:
• That the person signing the will is authorized to make their own medical decisions
• That the living will is meant for friends, family and any physicians
• That if they are struck with a terminal condition, they do not want the dying process to be artificially prolonged
• That no actions which deliberately speed up death have been authorized
Such documents do not authorize withholding artificial nutrition or hydration provided through tubes.
Any person 18 or older may create a living will. Because of the strict limitations surrounding a living will, many people in Missouri may choose to instead create an “advance directive.” This kind of document allows much more specificity in dictating which kind of treatments are to be withheld in specific medical situations. The state of Missouri provides a standardized six-page advance directive form anyone may complete.
In order for a living will or advance directive to take effect, two physicians must agree that the patient is terminally ill and close to dying. Some of the areas these documents may cover include:
• Artificial respiration
• Artificial nutrition or hydration
In the body of this document, it is also possible to specify whether you wish for any of your organs to be donated after death to a person in need. This is known as an “anatomical gift.”
No attorney is necessary to draw up this kind of advance directive. A living will or advance directive may be typed or handwritten. It must be signed by two witnesses who cannot be related to the person outlining their wishes. Alternatively, a notary public may sign the document.
After the living will or advance directive is drawn up, it is legally binding. Patients who are of sound health may revoke it at any time, either by destroying the documents, drafting a new form or orally. It is advisable to make sure this document is easily accessible. You may want to give a copy to your physician or carry one on your person at all times in case of accident.
Along with the medical procedures to be followed, an advance directive may contain the following statements:
• A description of what the person signing feels to be the minimum quality of life to continue medical treatment
• Instructions about any religious procedures to be followed
• Messages for friends and family
Unlike a living will, advance directives can be customized greatly depending on the wishes of the person completing it. Because there are so many variables, it may be advisable to consult with a lawyer if your advance directive becomes complicated.