What You Need To Know About Living Wills in New Jersey
“I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”—Woody Allen
Living Wills, or “Advance Directives for Healthcare”, have been around for decades. Unfortunately, many people do not consider their contents seriously. Many are content only to state that, if they have a terminal condition, all treatment should be stopped. I wonder how many of these documents are of practical use by medical professionals as written.
Living Wills are documents written to state what medical care an individual would want or not want if they were unable to make their own healthcare decisions. In order for an Advance Directive to become active, the writer must be either incapacitated or unconscious. Many times, in addition to stating preferences, the document names a person who is to act as a healthcare power of attorney, also known as a “healthcare proxy”, or “healthcare representative”. Naming someone gives the medical professionals a point person with whom to confer and obtain guidance for continued care.
Problems develop when the document is not prepared with the medical professional in mind, and instead contains high philosophical statements or statutory language which does not meet the practical situation on the ground. I always picture a harried emergency room doctor trying to find crucial information in a Living Will, flipping page upon page of flowery words and checkmarks, while precious time rolls by. Many of the documents I have seen contain the name of a healthcare proxy, but no phone number. These documents must be written with that healthcare professional in mind.
“What Do You Mean by “Heroic Measures”?”
There are a lot of documents, particularly online, which use terms to characterize care, but which really do not communicate anything to a doctor. Such terms as “I do not want heroic care”, or “extraordinary measures”, are examples. A physician may have two or three things to recommend for your condition, but he or she will not know if you consider any one of them to be “heroic” or “extraordinary”—and you won’t be able to resolve the dilemma. I’m afraid you need to be more specific.
“What Do You Mean by “Terminal Condition”?”
Many people preparing Living Wills are quick to state, for example, “If I have a terminal condition, all treatment is to be withheld or withdrawn”. No one wants to linger. But, did you know that many “terminal conditions” are such that no difficult symptoms will occur for many years out? What if you had ten good years before things got difficult? If you get hit by a car before then, do you want treatment? Or, let’s say that you have young children. Maybe you would like some extraordinary, maybe even experimental care? And, remember, what you write now, while you are standing up and healthy, may change drastically when you are lying on your back and sick.
We are considering end of life issues when Living Wills are written. Many religions, across the spectrum, have teachings in this area. If you want to comport with those teachings, make sure you state them in your Living Will. One big area for religions is the provision of artificially provided food and water. Talk to your religious leader first.
Consider Your Healthcare Power of Attorney
It is important to appoint someone who will stand behind your document and your wishes. Be sure that this person will honor your values and not substitute their own. This qualification necessarily means you must have a detailed discussion about your wishes with this person. Again, the document is meant to communicate your wishes. Go over it with the person you ask to be your healthcare proxy. You should be able to state, “I have made the decisions so you don’t have to.”
The name of your healthcare proxy and their contact information should be easily found in your Living Will. Medical professionals will need to contact this person quickly, so include their phone numbers in your document. I suggest that this information be in bold type.
Preparing Living Wills With Shanahan & Voigt
Our clients are given a “Values Profile” and a questionnaire to complete, at home, which raises many of the important issues deserving careful thought and consideration. Once returned, our attorneys will go over the client’s responses and discuss them to be sure we understand and can draft a document that is useful to healthcare professionals. The practice of law must meet the practical needs of our clients. Please contact us so we can help you.