August 01, 2016 Feature

Why Everyone Should Have a Living Will

Gretchen Edison Gaynor

Most adults have heard of a living will, but they may not be sure exactly what it is. Many have heard the story of Terri Schiavo, and most would agree that we would not want to be in a similar situation. (Schiavo fell into a persistent vegetative state following cardiac arrest and, having left no explicit instructions concerning the use of life-prolonging measures, became the center of a two-year legal battle between her husband, who wanted to remove her feeding tube, and her parents, who argued that she was still conscious and should be kept alive.) But relatively few adults have completed a “living will,” either a health care directive or a medical power of attorney. These are the legal instruments that determine end-of-life care according to the wishes of the individual who executes them.

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