• Richelle Godwin

Living Will Explained: Instructions for Healthcare for Life Sustaining Treatment

Read more to find out if you want extreme life saving treatment when you can't advocate for yourself.

Shakespeare wrote it best, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” really hit the point on this. When you think about death and getting your affairs in order, it's important to know exactly what your State will honor. In understanding what life sustaining treatments are or declarations for your health care, having the correct terminology is going to be pivotal in your health care wishes. Every State in the USA has its own legal term for a living will. Here is a list of what some States refer to this legal document:

  • Declaration of Desires for a Natural Death

  • Declaration Pertaining to Life Sustaining Procedures

  • Directive to Physician and Family

  • Directive to Physician and Family or Surrogates

  • End of Life Treatment Wishes

  • Health Care Choice Directives

  • Health Care Instruction

  • Health Care Treatment Instruction

  • Instructions for Health Care Decisions

  • Instructions for Healthcare

  • Life Sustaining Treatment Choices

  • Living Will

  • Living Will Directive

  • My Health Care Instruction

  • My Healthcare Wishes

  • State of Louisiana Declaration

  • Statement of Desires

As you can see, there are a lot of different names, but they all represent one piece of your Advanced Directives...that legal document which includes your declaration of health care and who your Health Care Durable Power of Attorney (HCDPOA)/Health Care Agent/Health Care Proxy is. These legal documents go into effect when you are incapacitated, cannot speak on your behalf, have an altered mental state such as having dementia, and/or in a coma. The document may terminate when you die, depending on which State you live in (as in Arizona, it can include your funeral and burial dispositions) and some States do not require if you want organ and/or tissue donation or anatomical gifts of your body.

So a Living Will is one piece of the Advanced Directives puzzle. But what exactly is this document? Well, it outlines medical treatment you do or do not want should you come to needing life sustaining treatment. The term life sustaining treatment also varies depending on your State, but it roughly means that any treatment such as medication, machines or medical procedures that would keep you alive but not cure you, hence sustain your life in your current medical state. It may also provide comfort and help ease pain if given said medication, machines or medical procedures. But again, this document goes into effect when you are incapacitated, unable to communicate, in a coma and/or may have dementia.

The types of medication, machines and/or medical devices also vary depending on which State you reside, but overall below are the most common possible treatments you may need to answer and communicate with your healthcare team, HCDPOA/Health Care Agent, and family and loved ones through a “living will”:

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

  • Do Not Resuscitate (DNR)

  • Breathing Machine (i.e. Ventilator Support)

  • Artificial Hydration (i.e. IV Fluids)

  • Artificial Nutrition (i.e. Feeding Tubes to provide nourishment)

  • Dialysis

  • Blood Transfusions

  • Antibiotics

  • Other Medicines (i.e. blood sugar and pain medication)

  • Organ & Tissue Donation

  • Goals with Each Option

Do you have more questions about life sustaining treatment? Would your special person, your HCDPOA, know what treatment you would or would not want if you were unable to communicate?

These options are quite intense and further questions may come up. When filling out your specific form, it’s best to have someone of experience and medical knowledge go through this form with you and help answer questions and provide scenarios for them. Gentle Passage Doula Collective (GPDC) has the experts that can help you better understand your options, provide risks and benefits to each of these as well as empower you to talk with your medical doctor for further clarification should you need. GPDC can also be your advocate during medical and family meetings when you share your legal documents such as this and Advanced Directives. This meeting and having this document completed can create support and remove fears and worries to you and your family when the time arrives of maybe needing to follow your living will wishes. It also gives your family and loved ones the ability to grieve and understand the dying process, freeing up any questions or future conflicts because you’ve given them the gift of knowledge with your end of life wishes.

Understanding and filling out your Living Will, your specific “rose,” can provide clarity and freedom to your medical team, friends, family and loved ones. And it might make the end of a Shakespearean story a little sweeter…

Check out this website for knowing what your State’s Living Will/Health Care Declaration is.

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The tools, resources and information does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only, not advice or guarantee of outcome. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the Gentle Passage Doula Collective Website, downloaded resources and/or educational material, or misinterpreted the information/context/educational sessions. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911. Gentle Passage Doula Collective and its members are not responsible for errors and omissions in reporting or explanation. No individuals, including those under our active care, should use the information, resources or tools contained within to self-diagnosis or self-treat any health-related condition. Gentle Passage Doula Collective gives no assurance or warranty regarding the accuracy, timeliness or applicability or the content.

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