Living Wills

What is an Advance Health Care Declaration? Also know as a Living Will, this document is a written statement that allows you to retain control over whether or not your life should be prolonged by the use of artificial means in a case where you are incompetent and have a terminal condition or are permanently unconscious.  The statement tells your family and friends of your wishes and instructs your doctor and other health care providers whether or not to medically prolong the process of your dying or keep you in a state of permanent unconsciousness, with no hope of recovery.  It is to be followed if you are unable to provide instructions at the time the medical decisions need to be made and allows you to authorize the withholding or withdrawal of all treatment and procedures.

Your declaration should contain specific directions describing the kinds of life-sustaining medical treatments and procedures you wish to be either initiated, continued, withheld or withdrawn, such as those listed in the Pennsylvania Advance Directive for Health Care Act’s sample declaration.  Pennsylvania law provides that your desire to withhold or withdraw medical treatment is not to be considered suicide, euthanasia or homicide.

When is a Declaration used? Your declaration becomes effective and can be used only after your attending physician makes a written diagnosis that you are incompetent and either in a terminal condition or in a permanent state of unconsciousness.  This diagnosis must then be confirmed in writing by a second physician.

Can someone else make decisions for me? Yes.  The Advance Directive for Health Care Law permits you to name a “surrogate” and a “substitute surrogate” to make medical treatment decisions for you if you should ever become incompetent and either in a terminal condition or permanently unconscious.

The preferred procedure is to make your wishes known in a written declaration.  You might then want to name a surrogate and instruct him/her to make sure that your written wishes are carried out.  Also, be sure that the people you name as surrogates are willing to fill this role and understand your preferences and desires.