Massachusetts attorneys, Bernard J. Hamill, Quincy

Living Wills by Massachusetts Lawyers

When 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 matters.

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 record.

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 your decisions.

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.

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