Mary and I have a signed a notarized Health Care Directive. It is probably our fourth one. It is also known as a Living Will, Advanced Health Care Directive, or Personal Directive. We are both healthy and we used one provided by our lawyer when we were having our will revised.
The living will is a dynamic document. It can change as you change. Ours changed from the time that we were in our early 30’s with young children. It changed again when we moved to a different state. It changed when we updated our will. Each time it changed, we found our beliefs and wishes had matured or changed also.
There are a number of organizations that are promoting the use of living will documents. I read in the paper this week about an organization in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Respecting Choices, that has become an international model for use by hospitals to inform people of their choices for health care. Patients discuss their options with a counselor and family members before writing it down. They have over 90% of their patients using a Health Care Directive, ten times the national average. They emphasize three stages in the program, starting out with you being healthy and ending with you having a terminal illness and expecting to die within a year.
The basic parts of the living will template are: you name someone who is going to act as your health care agent if you are unable to do so; you review the powers that you have given this person, including the use of artificial means to keep you alive or stopping care if necessary; the use of cremation or not; the wish to donate organs or not; a section to state your wishes on health care, including the use of pain management, and how you want to be treated at the end of life.
The document is signed and notarized with witnesses. The hospital and your doctor will get a copy and it is often entered into an electronic notification system, so that if you happen to be brought into the hospital by ambulance in the future, they will be able to quickly access the document to decide the best course of action for your health care.
One place to access an example of a free living will template for your state is http://www.caringinfo.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3289.