Guide to Tennessee Living Wills
A living will is a legally binding document that goes into effect when a seriously ill person can no longer express their wishes. Since 2004, Tennessee’s Health Department has provided a detailed form, known as an “Advance Care Plan,” which patients can complete without the help of an advisor to make their wishes known.
Patients may or may not choose to appoint an agent who will make medical decisions on their behalf in case of an emergency. There are four reasons to discontinue life support treatments as defined by the form:
• You are in a coma and are not expected to ever wake up.
• Dementia caused by Alzheimer’s or other diseases place you in a state defined as “permanent confusion,” in which you can no longer communicate with others clearly and do not respond with awareness to daily life.
• An inability to talk, move, bathe or otherwise care for and express oneself in all areas of daily life which has left the patient totally dependent on others
• A terminal illness such as cancer which has advanced to the final stage and resisted all treatment.
Patients are allowed to request that the following procedures be applied or discontinued:
• Artificial life support procedures such as breathing machines and dialysis
• Any procedure that helps alleviate a new complication through antibiotics, blood transfusions or other measures without helping reverse the main cause of illness
• Intravenous food and liquid
In addition to specifically stating your preferences about these matters, you may include additional instructions detailing:
• Specifying which procedures or medical measures are acceptable and which are too burdensome to agree to
• Setting fixed durations for certain procedures to be continued
• Burial arrangements
• Instructions for hospice care
You can specify which, if any, organs you would like to make an “anatomical gift” of for the purposes of a transfer or medical school use.
The form does not become legally valid until it is signed in the presence of two witnesses age 18 or older, neither of whom can have been appointed to act as an agent by proxy earlier in the form. At least one of the witnesses can be either related to the patient or entitled to any of their estate. Alternately, the document may be signed in the presence of a notary public.
Once a living will has been completed, a copy should be given to your physician. Additionally, you may wish to carry a copy on your person or in your glove compartment to make sure it is easily accessible in case of an emergency. Once it has been determined that there is no possible hope of recovery for you, physicians must carry out your instructions. If they feel unable to do so, you must be transferred to the care of another doctor or institution who will comply with your instructions. The terms of the living will can be amended or revoked by the patient at any time, either by creating a new document or by oral instruction.