Living Wills

A living will (also known as a directive to physicians or health care declaration) is a document in which you set forth the types of medical care and treatment you want to receive or don’t want to receive when you can no longer speak for yourself because you are unconscious or no longer mentally competent.

In your living will, you may request that your health care providers administer life-sustaining treatment, withhold life-sustaining treatment, or withdraw life-sustaining treatment after a period of time.  You have a federal constitutional right to refuse medical treatment, even if that refusal is likely to lead to death.

You may want different instructions for different situations, for example, the last stages of a terminal illness versus a state of unconsciousness from which you are not expected to recover.

The types of treatment you may want to consider include:

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

If your heart stops beating, do you want health care professionals to administer CPR, drugs, and electrical shock with a defibrillator to attempt to restart it?

Intubation and ventilation. 

If you are unable to breathe on your own, do you want to have a tube inserted in your windpipe that is connected to a machine that will help you breathe?

Feeding and hydration.

If you are unable to eat or drink, do you want to be fed and hydrated with an IV or feeding tube?


If your kidneys fail, do you want to be connected to a machine to remove toxins from your body?


If you have an infection, do you want it treated with medications, or allow it to go untreated even if that may hasten death?


If surgery becomes necessary to prolong your life, do you want to undergo it or let nature take its course?

Palliative care.

Instead of aggressive life-prolonging care, would you prefer to receive only medications and other treatment for the purpose of keeping you pain-free and comfortable?

Discussing these decisions with your doctor before making your living will is a good idea.  Your doctor can explain the risks, benefits, and consequences of these treatments so you can make a more informed decision.

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