Living Will: Your Right to Accept or Refuse Medical Treatment

What are advance directives?
They are formal documents written in advance of serious illness that state choices for health care, or that name someone to make those decisions for you. Advance directives may include either a living will or a durable power of attorney for health care, or both.

What is the difference between a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care (health care representative)?
A Living Will is a legal document in which you choose the medical treatment you wish to request or refuse. It is put into use only when you are not able to make your own decisions. A Health Care Representative is a person appointed by you to make decisions for you concerning your medical care when you are not able to do so.

How do I get advance directives?
First, you should check the laws of your state. NJ law recognizes advance directives that are properly drafted and executed in other states as being valid in NJ. Ask for help from your lawyer, physician or clergy when completing the forms. Be sure to sign and date the forms. The forms must also contain signatures from witnesses. In NJ, a notary's seal and signature is optional. Give copies of the forms to a relative or friend, who is likely to be notified in an emergency. Carry a wallet card stating that you have advance directives.

Who should have copies of these documents?
Your family physician, family and other appropriate people should have copies. Bring your original forms when you are scheduled to be admitted to the hospital. A copy will be made for your chart.

Can I change my forms?
Yes, you may write in specifics, or make changes. Please be sure to initial and date any changes.

Can I change my mind once I have signed the forms?
Yes, you may make changes or revoke the forms at any time.

How do I know which procedures I would want or not want to prolong my life?
Make your choices by discussing how artificial life-support would affect the dying process with your family or friends.

How are decisions made about medical treatment if I do not have advance directive?
Decisions may be left to your family, physician, and hospital, and ultimately a judge. Usually the family, physician, and hospital can reach an agreement without going to the courts.

Living Will: Terms You May Hear

Artificial nutrition and fluid: A means of providing food and water when a person is unable to eat or drink due to illness. Three methods may be used - a tube through the nose into the stomach; a tube inserted directly into the stomach; or an I.V. (intravenous) tube.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): A treatment done by certified people to patients when breathing and heart beat stop. It may involve pushing on the chest, mouth-to-mouth breathing, or electrical shock to start the heart beat.

Decision Making Capacity: The ability of a person to understand the benefits and risks of medical treatment and the alternatives.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR): A written order by a physician to alert health personnel to refrain from CPR if a patient's heart stops beating.

Life-Sustaining Treatment: Any medical treatments, devices, or procedures to prolong life and delay death.

Palliative Care: Medical care given to relieve pain and suffering, but not intended to cure (e.g. pain medications, antibiotics).

Persistent Vegetative State: A form of permanent unconsciousness in which the patient has periods of waking and sleeping, but at no time is he/she able to interact with others.

Terminal Condition: The end of an irreversibly fatal illness, disease, or condition. Life expectancy is usually one year or less.

Ventilator/Respirator: A machine (attached to a tube placed in a patient's windpipe) to assist breathing.

Your Right to Accept or Refuse Medical Treatment:
Medical Treatment Decision ChecklistIt's a good idea to discuss your wishes about medical treatment with your family, friends, doctor, clergy, and lawyer. The following might be important choices for you...

Dying without pain and suffering

Acting according to your religious beliefs

Being with loved ones at death

Extreme measures in a situation when health can't be restored

Sources of Information

Your Local Office on Aging

American Association of Retired Persons

Local Bar Association

Local Civic and Service Organizations




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