The first step in preparing a living will is to determine what you want in it. This sounds much easier than it is. Its a huge decision, but it can be revised. Your choices will be influenced by your spiritual beliefs. You might think you don’t have any spiritual beliefs, but not believing in God or an afterlife is a belief about whether or not they exist or whether you care about them.
If you consider yourself to be an agnostic or atheist, you will want to gather whatever human wisdom you can any way you can. You probably have relationships with people you admire for their wisdom. Ask their advice. They may not want to give you advice about such a weighty matter, but you can ask. At least ask for the process they go through in making difficult decisions. Don’t know anyone you can ask? Study written material on decision-making processes. It can’t hurt to do both, provided death is not immanent, but at least do ponder the matter for awhile.
If you do believe in God, you should ask him for wisdom in making the important decisions about what to put in your living will. The Bible teaches that wisdom is available to anyone who asks God for it. King Solomon was considered the wisest man on earth. He had asked God for wisdom, and God commended Solomon for that (I Kings 3:10-14, New International Version).
Of course divine wisdom does not necessarily contradict human wisdom. If you want human advice, you can ask a hospital chaplain or other spiritual advisor.
One of the ways that God gave Solomon wisdom was through education. Knowledge is not the same as wisdom, but it gives us factors to consider in making decisions. Some bits of knowledge you will need are:
1. the various medical technologies and treatments that are often used to prolong life, including any used specifically for your conditions
2. the current legal definition of death
3. the feelings of those closest to you about their readiness to let you go
4. definitions of the current medical phrases used in living wills
USA Today, updated an article on October 8. 2009 about medical ethics issues relating to living wills. The article, by Cathy Lynn Grossman, is entitled “Life and death: Hospital ethics panels help families decide”. Obviously such panels and their members are informed sources of advice. These panels include a variety of medical professionals, social workers and chaplains.
Ms. Grossman points out that Catholic hospitals comply with “the ethical and religious directives spelled out by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops”. You might want to find out what these are, whether or not you are Roman Catholic. If you disagree with those directives, you should state in your living will that you do not want to die in a Catholic hospital. You should also inform people who might take you to a hospital that you want to go to a non-Catholic hospital. It would be even better include the name of the hospital you prefer. This is to avoid a potential power struggle over which ethics apply to your situation.
Getting the Form
Most hospitals have living will forms.They are all the same non-white color. This makes them easy to find in a patient’s chart. Usually the forms are short and simple. If they are too short for you to say all you want, attach an extra typewritten page and on the form write “See attached page.” You can also print one off the internet. State laws about living wills vary. If you travel repeatedly to the same locations, you might want to have forms from each state that you commonly visit.
Signing the Form
Sign the form and any attached page, assuming you are able to write. If not make your mark in the presence of a notary and have the form notarized. Most banks have at least one notary. Sometimes they make notary services available to their own account-holders free of charge. You just need to ask. If you are hospitalized at the time, ask hospital staff to send you a notary or help you find one.
Distributing the Form
It’s extremely important that the form be available to the right people. They include at least the medical professionals attending you. You probably don’t know who they will be, so you should file a copy of your living will in the hospital you would probably be in, if you were near home when hospitalized. Unless you are “glued to your home”, you could be hospitalized elsewhere. You can carry your living will in your wallet or purse.
You should also give a copy to an individual close to you whom you trust very much, and to your attorney, if you have one.
To him or her you can explain any details that you could not include in the will itself. You can also offer your rationale for your preferences. That person might be one who would grieve deeply for you. It would be comforting to know why you made the decisions you did.
Reviewing the Living Will
As long as you are alive and able to communicate you can revise or replace your living will. You should look at it periodically in case you have changed your mind about something on it or in case there are new factors to consider – new legal issues, new medical technologies or new relationships.
Creating your living will is a simple process, but it is a process that should involve your deeper thinking skills, your communication skills, processing your emotions. It might even include helping key people in your life to process their own feelings.