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What Is A Living Will and Ethical Implications

Updated on April 23, 2010

What Are Advanced Directives

Advance Directives are documents that help family and doctors follow someone’s medical care wishes. These legal documents take effect when one lacks the capacity to make health care decisions by themselves. While living wills and the like are helpful, there can be several ethical considerations that can make the execution of advance directives hard. Although, advance directives are potentially problematic, having a valid living will or medical power of attorney ready is key to keeping some level of control over their own life when the need arises.

A Living Will, is a document that states someone's preferences in a certain medical circumstances. A Do Not Resuscitate Order can be considered a type of living will that applies only the the medical situation where the patient requires medical care to restart breathing or heart functionality. A medical durable power of attorney is also known as a power of attorney for health care. A durable power of attorney formally designates someone else to make medical decisions on your behalf.

How To Write a Living Will or Power of Attorney

Do you want a basic proclamation of your wishes? Something like “I want all forms of treatment,” are general in nature. Statements such as “I want life-sustaining procedures to be commence and then continued for thirty days at most when my condition shows no signs of improvement," are much more specific. 

General statements cause concerns because they give rise to questions about the individual’s intention. In the example, what is meant by “treatment”?  Does it mean only things that will improve the underlying medical impairment or does it include life-sustaining treatment as well?  Specific statements can also cause issues. An list that does not directly mention the medical situation can cause an ethical dilemma of interpretation. If the event is not specifically mentioned, then does the directive not apply at all?

If she was your nurse, you might already feel better.
If she was your nurse, you might already feel better.

Ethical Issues of Living Wills

Ethical issues can be raised when the living will conflicts with the spiritual beliefs of the patient, the doctor, or the facility. Some instructions might be considered a form of assisted suicide, for example. Furthermore, a patient's living will can result in an ethical dilemma between following the patient's wishes and the Hypocritical Oath taken by doctors.

A medical power of attorney takes care of some these issues. For example, appointing someone to make informed decisions on your behalf removes the problems caused when instructions are unclear. The designated person's instructions are always the considered the right ones.

Whichever route one goes, getting their living will just right is a tricky path to follow.


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      Donace 6 years ago

      At least here in the UK we normally advised that you create both a Lasting power of Attorney ( and a Living Will (Advance Decision) as the the later can go on more specific matters such as DNR's and be updated (or should be updated) regularly to keep on track with medical updates.

    • Smireles profile image

      Sandra Mireles 7 years ago from Texas

      Living Wills, and Advanced directives have been around for a very long time. My grandmother had a living will before she died in the early nineties. She had made it many years before her death. Great hub with needed information.