Guide to Pennsylvania Living Wills
A living will is a legally binding set of instructions on what to do with a patient who is terminally ill, permanently unconscious or otherwise unresponsive to their environment and unable to make their wishes known. Though there is no standard government template for a living will that must be followed to create a legally valid document, there are several standard parts that should be included in all cases.
A living will allows you to indicate whether, either as the result of a terminal illness or an accident, you wish to receive aggressive treatment in the form of such measures as:
• Artificial respiration
You may choose to specify how long any or all of these procedures should be allowed to continue before they are terminated. Additionally, you should indicate whether you wish to continue receiving liquid and food intravenous nutrition if those are the only things keeping you alive.
Additionally, if you have appointed a proxy agent to make medical decisions on your behalf, you should indicate whether they have the authority to override your written wishes. If a physician determines that there is no hope of recovery for you and your instructions must be executed as written, they are obligated to do so. Any doctor who cannot follow the living will’s instructions is legally required to transfer the patient of another physician or facility which will carry them out.
You may wish to include a section regarding organ donation. You may specify that any or all organs can be removed for medical study, a transplant or other purposes. You are also allowed to only permit certain kind of uses for certain organs.
Some patients may find it desirable to explain the reasoning behind their living wills in greater detail. You can include as much additional material as you see fit about:
• Any religious beliefs guiding your decision-making
• Treatments you would consider burdensome, too expensive or detrimental to your dignity
• Funeral procedures
• The minimum quality-of-life you consider necessary for life-sustaining procedures to be used
A living will does not become legally binding until it is signed in the presence of two witnesses at least 18 years of age. It can be revoked at any time, either by creating another living will or by oral request. Though physicians are required to follow the instructions within, they do not take effect until it has been determined that there is no hope of recovery.The vaguer a document, the harder it may be to execute the patient’s wishes. If you are concerned that your wishes may be misinterpreted, legal advice can be helpful.
For the living will’s terms to be executed, patients must make sure a copy is easily accessible as necessary. Make sure to give a copy to your physician if applicable. If admitted to a hospital, a copy of the living will should be handed over as part of your medical documentation at the outset.