A living will is a legal document that allows you to specify your wishes regarding your end-of-life care. Typically, living wills only apply to situations in which you are terminally ill or otherwise incapacitated and unable to communicate your wishes to your physician. While there are numerous advantages to having a living will, there can also be some disadvantages. It's important to consider the potential pros and cons prior to drafting your living will.
Pro: Avoids Unnecessary Treatment
The primary benefit of a living will is that it allows you to voice your desires regarding what treatments should be administered or withheld at the end of life. Physicians are required to comply with your wishes within the reasonable scope of medical practice. For example, a living will allows you to provision the use of artificial life support methods, including respirators and feeding tubes. You can also specify at what point treatment should stop and how your pain should be managed until your death.
Pro: Reduces Family Burden
By drafting a living will, you alleviate some of the stress that can occur when family members are forced to make life-or-death decisions regarding your care. The decision to sustain or remove life support can be difficult; a living will eases this burden. If your family members have opposing views regarding end-of-life care, a living will can also help to avoid potential conflicts.
Living wills are extremely flexible, allowing you to change your mind at any time regarding your wishes. You can be as specific or as broad in your instructions as you like. Typically, you can revoke a living will simply by destroying it or writing a new one. In most states, the revocation becomes effective once you notify at least two witnesses or your physician. If your living will allows you to name your spouse as your agent, divorce automatically revokes this authority.
Con: Limited Scope
In most cases, living wills only apply to situations where medical procedures or treatments are required to sustain your life. This can potentially be problematic if you require medical care for a non-life-threatening condition but are unable to communicate with your physician. You may need a separate power of attorney for health care to allow someone else to make medical decisions for you in these circumstances. Many states also will not enforce a living will if you are pregnant at the time you become incapacitated.
Con: Physician Compliance
State laws require your physician to comply with the terms of your living will once you've communicated it to them. In some cases, however, your physician may be unable or unwilling to do so due to ethical or moral beliefs. Your physician may attempt to dispute whether your incapacitation meets the standard as set forth by state law, which can prolong treatment against your wishes.
Rebecca Lake is a freelance writer and virtual assistant living in the southeast. She has been writing professionally since 2009 for various websites. Lake received her master's degree in criminal justice from Charleston Southern University.