Living wills stipulate what procedures should be taken if a patient becomes terminally ill and is no longer capable of making medical decisions on their own. In Texas, there are four types of documents that apply:
• The “directive to the physician” states what steps are to be taken if you are terminally ill and are not expected to live more than six months
• A “do not resuscitate” order specifically outlines conditions under which you do not wish to be revived if you experience cardiac arrest or otherwise come near death
• A “medical power of attorney” form appoints someone else to make end-of-life care decisions on your behalf if you are physically or mentally incapable of doing so
• A “directive for mental health treatment” specifies what steps to take if you become mentally ill
An attorney is not required to complete these forms. While there is no one standard template for these documents, there are a number of legally valid forms people may find online and complete themselves. Any living will must be signed by either a notary public or two witnesses. If you choose the latter, the witnesses may not be related to you, either by blood or through marriage. Any person over age 18 may choose to complete one of these forms.
It is important to be aware of the distinction between an irreversible condition and a terminal condition. For example, Alzheimer’s disease is irreversible but not fatal in and of itself. A terminal condition is both irreversible and will lead to death if life is not artificially prolonged.
The directive to the physician:
• Allows patients to request that life-sustaining treatment either be continued or withdrawn
• Does not apply to people in hospice care
• Can specify whether you wish to have artificial nutrition administered via tubes
• Can specify which antibiotics or treatments you specifically want or decline
• Can request that you be given treatment to alleviate pain even if it hastens the end of your life
Any such form can be revoked or changed at any time by the patient or replaced by another form. Patients have the right to orally revoke the terms of their living will. It is also important to note that under Texas law, women who are pregnant are not allowed to decline life-sustaining treatment regardless of their condition.
When a directive to the physician is created and signed, it goes into effect. Assuming the person is of sound mental health at the time of the living will’s creation, family members cannot contest the instructions on legal grounds. As long as they proceed prudently, doctors cannot be sued for following instructions which hasten the death of the patient.
Texas residents have a space on their driver’s license where they can write in the phone number of anyone entrusted with a copy of their living will. This can be useful if you are involved in an accident and a copy of your directive to the physician cannot be immediately found.