Living Wills by Massachusetts
you need medical care, you have the right to make choices about that
care. But there may come a time when you are so sick that you can't
make your choices known. You can stay in charge by putting your choice
in writing ahead of this time. This is called a Living Will.
Living wills also are sometimes called advance directives and durable
health care powers of attorney. If you have already signed one, be
sure your doctor, your hospital and your family have a copy.
How does a Living Will help?
If you sign a living will, your family and your doctor will know who
to talk to about your care or what kinds of treatment you want or
don't want when you are too sick to decide. This could happen if you
have a serious illness, are near the end of life, or are no longer
aware. If doctors don't know your wishes, they will treat you until
they can ask your family what you want. If your family doesn't know,
you may get treatments you don't want or which you would stop if you
had your way. In an emergency you will receive care until the doctors
can determine your condition and what your wishes are.
What do I choose in a Living Will?
The Living Will allows you to do five things:
1. Choose someone to make all your health care decisions beginning
either right away or when you are too sick to decide. That person
is called your agent. Your agent can be a family member or friend.
If you choose an agent, two (2) witnesses must sign your advance directive.
2. Choose whether or not you want certain treatments when you are
no longer aware, very ill or may not live. For example, you can choose
what you wish to have done or not done if you are dying, or if you
are in a permanent coma. Your agent must follow any choices you make
in an advance directive.
3. State a desire to donate your organs. (Your family will make the
final decision, but this will tell them your wishes.)
4. Name your primary doctor
5. State your wishes or name someone to decide funeral and burial
What happens if my heart stops in the hospital or nursing home?
If your heart or breathing suddenly stops in the hospital or nursing
home, drugs, machines and other means will be used to try to restart
them. This is called cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR. CPR is
always done unless your doctor writes an order called a "Do Not
Resuscitate" order or DNR. If you have concerns about CPR, discuss
them with your doctor while you are well. If you make an advance directive
that says you do not want CPR, it may not be possible for the hospital
or nursing home to follow your decision all the time. For example,
if you come to the emergency room and your heart has stopped, there
may be no time to check your advance directive before CPR is started.
If you do not want CPR while you are in the hospital or nursing home,
your doctor must write a DNR order for you and put it in your medical
What happens if my heart stops at home?
If you are at home and your heart stops, ambulance crews may still
give you CPR even if you have an advance directive. You should talk
with your doctor if you do not want CPR at any time. If you and your
doctor both sign a special form -- now orange -- then your decision
not to have CPR should be followed. Show that form to those close
to you and keep it where it will be easily seen. Your doctor will
then give you a special bracelet or wallet card designed to alert
ambulance crews that you do not want CPR.
Does my doctor have to follow my choices?
Yes. If your doctor, hospital, or other place of health care has any
special rules about health care decisions, or if they will not carry
out your decisions, they must tell you. They must then arrange to
move you to a doctor, hospital, or other place which will carry out
What else should I know?
No one can make you sign a form or stop you from signing it. You also
have the right to change or cancel a form at any time. The advance
living will form does not allow others to control your money or property.
To appoint someone to control your money or property, you need a different
form - a financial power of attorney - and you should discuss that
with your lawyer. Remember, You can plan in advance for the time when
you may not be able to state your health care choices. Talk with your
doctor, family members, clergy, and others about your wishes. Put
your decisions in writing. This may save your family and others from
having to make painful decisions later on.