Living Wills

Many people do not wish to prolong their lives if they are seriously ill, their death is close at hand, and they have no realistic chance of recovering. Under these circumstances, continuing life-sustaining treatment can escalate the medical expenses and subject the patient, as well as family and friends, to an agonizing existence. Living Wills address this situation. This article summarizes how these instruments work in Ohio.

What Is A Living Will and What Does It Do?

A Living Will is an instrument that directs health care providers to withhold life-sustaining treatment in the most hopeless of circumstances. Generally, this document requires the absence of life-sustaining treatment if two or more doctors agree that a person’s death is imminent or the person is permanently unconscious and the person will not regain the capacity to make an informed decision on ending the life extending care. The Living Will lists several persons to whom health care providers must give a 48-hour notice of removal of the life support. The doctors shall cease the life-sustaining treatment unless a person gains a court order that directs otherwise. Because a court will only grant such an order if someone shows, by clear and convincing evidence, that the person changed his desires, there is a great degree of certainty that the Living Will’s mandate will be followed.

Why Is A Living Will Necessary?

Doctors have a duty to keep a person alive and fear the legal consequences if they act improperly. A Living Will gives clear guidance and liability protection to those persons who rely on it. If there is no Living Will and a person’s death is close at hand, then health care providers and the family must jump through a number of hoops to remove life support. They must correctly determine which person is the legal “medical decision-maker,” insure this person investigates the patient’s desires, obtain a written consent to remove treatment, give a 48-hour notice, then implement the decision. If the patient is in a coma, then Ohio law requires a 12-month waiting period. A Living Will eliminates this process and provides a quicker, surer means to carry out the patient’s wishes.

Answers To Some Frequently Asked Questions

Although each state has laws in this area and they are not identical, it is quite likely a state will honor a Living Will made elsewhere. If you spend a lot of time in a different state, then obtaining a Living Will in the other jurisdiction would be advisable to provide some security. Doctors have a duty to provide appropriate care under all circumstances, so the presence of a Living Will should not reduce the care and attention the patient receives. Doctors must maintain a food tube and intravenous hydration if this provides comfort or alleviates pain. If any of the persons listed as contacts in the Living Will move or change telephone numbers, then this will not invalidate the instrument. Living Wills are easily obtained and inexpensive. Upon entering a hospital or nursing home, the staff will inquire as to the existence of the instrument and fill-out the forms if necessary. They usually do not charge a fee for this service.