How to Protect your Rights and Stay off Life Support

As a paralegal, I drafted many living wills, including my own. Although individual state’s regulations vary to some degree, the basics of staying off life support are universal.

1. Enact a living will.
A living will is the only universal (accepted in all states) way to protect your right to stay off life support in the United States. This instrument should contain your wishes against being placed on life support and should specifically explain which types. GI tubes, or feeding tubes, are not generally accepted as life support. Ventilators may also not be considered life support in certain circumstances. All permission should be granted in your living will for organ donation, otherwise organ harvesting will be foregone.

Be specific when listing the types of life support you want avoided and the organs to be donated with notation whether or not your list is exclusive.

The living will should include whether or not you wish doctors or paramedics to perform live saving measures on your behalf. The document should specify which measures you wish not to have performed, such as defribrolation or cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

2. Execute the living will.

The instrument must be witnessed by two persons above the age of majority and notarized. File an original of the document with the probate court in your jurisdiction. Provide a certified copy to all of your physicians to become a permanent part of your medical history. Provide a certified copy to local hospitals to which you may be brought by ambulatory service to be placed in your permanent medical files.

Carry a certified copy with you where someone looking for your identification will find it, in the event of calamity while you are away from home. In your wallet, passport case or purse, are good places to carry it. Do note that some countries will not honor your living will.

Once given a living will, hospitals will place a DNR, “Do Not Resuscitate”, order into your medical chart. Until the DNR is issued, heroic measures may be taken on your behalf including restarting your heart and many other measures which will save your life. Those who wear medical identification bracelets should consider having DNR engraved on their bracelets.

Filing your living will with the probate court will prevent family conflict over your wishes and theirs.

Talk to your physicians and an attorney prior to drawing a living will. Execute your living will to be certain your family, your friends and your medical staff know your wishes to stay off of life support and are legally bound to carry them out.