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Living Wills 101

Specific Procedures To Consider

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If the state in which you live permits you to describe specific procedures, try to identify your wishes as specifically as possible so that little, if any, decision needs to be made by the people trying to carry out your wishes. For instance, instead of using a general phrase such as heroic measures which could mean any of a number of medical procedures, list your wishes about:

  • Artificial nutrition and/or hydration: Nutrition and/or liquid is given through a tube in a vein or in the stomach to supplement or replace ordinary eating and drinking. If you want your agent to have the right to withhold nutrition or hydration, it may be best to include a general statement such as "My agent knows my wishes concerning artificial nutrition and hydration."  Adding more to the general statement may unintentionally restrict your agent's authority to act in your best interest.
  • Blood transfusions: Replacing blood by giving you blood by injection.
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation: A group of procedures performed on a person whose heart stops beating (cardiac arrest) or who stops breathing (respiratory arrest) in an attempt to restart the heart and breathing. It can include mouth-to-mouth breathing, chest compressions to mimic the heart's function and cause the blood to circulate, drugs, electric shocks, and/or artificial breathing aimed at stimulating the heart and reviving a dying person.
  • Dialysis: Cleaning the blood by machine.
  • Major surgery: Your wishes could be stated in terms of "major surgery" or specific surgery that you do or do not want could be indicated.
  • Pain medications: Pain drugs may indirectly shorten life.
  • Respirator or other mechanical breathing device: Breathing by machine through a tube in the throat to replace the function of the lungs.

You could also state a general procedural preference tied to a projected outcome. For example, in the event of lung failure, you could decide that you want to be placed on a respirator if it is likely that you will survive it, but not if the likelihood for survival and return to a quality of life that is important to you is slim. You can also state your preference in terms of medications which treat the symptoms, rather than the disease (such as pain, blood transfusions, tube feeding or a respirator).  

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