Guide to North Carolina living wills
When someone is terminally ill, permanently unconscious or otherwise unable to express their wishes, a living will comes into effect. This document specifies what kind of treatments should be undertaken or withheld. Physicians are required to abide by its instructions. While there is no official form that must be taken, the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office has made a template available that can be used as the basis for a living will.
After affirming that you are of sound mind, you may indicate your preferences in the case of:
• An incurable or irreversible condition that will soon lead to death with no possibility of recovery
• A lapse into a coma with no reasonable expectation of a return to consciousness
• Advanced dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, leading to a large loss in cognitive ability
You will indicate your preference for whoever your health care provider may be to either:
• Continue artificially life-sustaining procedures such as artificial respiration for indefinite periods of time
• Discontinue artificially life-sustaining procedures if there is no reasonable hope of recovery
To avoid ambiguity, you may wish to detail:
• Which procedures you would be willing to have performed
• Any procedures you would find too burdensome or expensive to justify
• Fixed durations for any procedures to be continued
Additionally, you should specify whether you wish to have intravenous food and liquid nutrition continued indefinitely or withdrawn at a certain date. If you have appointed an agent to made decisions on your behalf, you can specify that they either have final authority or must follow your written instructions.
To become legally binding, this document must be signed in the presence of two witnesses, who must not be:
• Related to the patient, either by blood or marriage
• A potential heir or claimant to any assets
• an attending physician
• in any way involved with the medical care of the patient
Patients are encouraged to add as much information as they think may be relevant to any decisions made. You may wish to specify:
• Religious beliefs that have guided your decisions
• Whether you wish for any of your organs to be made available for donation
• Any funeral procedures you wish to be followed
A will may be revoked in any time, either in writing or orally. It is the patient’s responsibility to make sure his or her wishes are carried out by making sure copies of the living will are easily accessible. A copy should be given to a physician or family member.
Health care providers are obligated to follow the instructions of the living will, even if they go against the wishes of family members. Assuming they are acting in good faith, they are not in violation of the law. A physician unwilling to carry out the instructions of the living will must arrange for the patient be transferred to another doctor or facility’s care.