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What exactly is a living will?

Updated on December 1, 2013

The basics of a Living Will

-Allows you to specify what medical treatments you want performed should you become unconscious and unable to answer for yourself.

-Allows you to designate a surrogate (or medical power of attorney) to speak for you, according to your wishes.

-Is not valid if you are pregnant or can speak for yourself and are of sound mind.

If you’re facing an upcoming surgery or procedure, or are just worried about a car accident, and you don’t want to end up on permanent life support should something go wrong, it’s very important to have a living will in place. The good news is they’re very simple to do. The bad news, your family members aren't allowed to be witnesses. But onto the specifics.

To obtain the form (in Kentucky, at least), you would visit the web page for the KY attorney general. This packet includes all of the instructions necessary to fill it out, and will help you to understand the choices.

You’re able to declare if you want life prolonging treatment (breathing tube, feeding tube, CPR, etc), if you want to donate organs or tissue in the event of your death, and who you would like to be your surrogate once you’re incapacitated.

What is Life Prolonging Treatment?

This option can be a little misleading. If you find yourself in an ICU setting, nearly everything done could be considered life prolonging. However, the important options to think about concern CPR if your heart stops, a breathing tube if you aren’t getting enough oxygen, and the medications that are used to control blood pressure, heart rhythms, etc.

If you choose not to receive life prolonging treatment, then the only thing that would be done for you in a life threatening situation are medications for comfort.

What about Food and Water?

This is exactly what it sounds like. If you decide to go full steam ahead in your treatment plan, and you find yourself with a breathing tube, then there’s a strong chance that you’ll receive a feeding tube as well.

You would receive nourishment through the feeding tube, and IV fluids through an IV.

Naming a Surrogate

For this one, I absolutely can’t state enough how important it is that the person you choose understand implicitly what you would want done, and also that they would have the stomach to do it.

This is the person who will speak for you, and make life altering decisions for you once you’re unable to speak for yourself. These choices can range from should they place a central line (big IV), perform a tracheostomy (small hole in the trachea to allow you to breath easier), or long term feeding tube.

If the person you choose doesn't understand what you want, or they don’t have the fortitude to follow through on your wishes, you could wake up in a very different situation than you ever imagined.

Organ and Tissue Donation

This section is relatively straight forward. If you were to pass unexpectedly, would you want to donate your organs. Saying yes does not mean that your organs would be used, and it absolutely doesn’t mean we would stop treatment!

If the situation arose where organ donation would be considered, there’s a very large battery of tests and questions to be answered, as well as consultations with your family from the donation association.

If it’s found that you would be a suitable donor, then you would continue to be cared for and prepped for donation.

Finally, can I get a Witness!

As stated before, do not use family to witness your living will. It won’t be valid. The final step is getting two witness signatures outside of your family members, or having the document notarized. After that’s done, your living will is active. Just make sure your primary doctor, or someone close to you, has a copy!


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