living wills, senior medical care, do not resuscitateIowa law allows for individuals to execute Living Wills to insure that the rights and desires of terminally ill or comatose individuals are honored.  The document takes the decision making burden away from your family members.  Your physician will make sure your desires are accomplished.  Pursuant to the Living Will, you direct your physician to withhold life-sustaining procedures in the event you have an incurable or irreversible condition that will result in death within a relatively short period of time or a state of permanent unconsciousness from which, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, there can be no recovery.  

Life-sustaining procedures refers to any medical procedure or treatment that meets both of the following requirements:

  1. The use of mechanical or artificial means to sustain, restore or take place of a spontaneous vital function, and which,
  2. When applied to a patient in a terminal condition, would serve only to prolong the dying process.  

Life-sustaining procedures does not include the administration of medication or performance of any medical procedure deemed necessary to provide comfort, care or to alleviate pain.  The provision of food and hydration is generally not a life-sustaining procedure and as such, will not be withheld.  The exception is when food and hydration are required to be provided parenterally or by intubation, in which case they will be defined as life-sustaining procedures and will be withheld unless you provide otherwise in your Living Will.    It is important that a copy of your Living Will be provided to your various physicians so that they are aware of your desires.  At the time that your Living Will becomes effective, it will be necessary to present the original Living Will to your attending physician.  Your attending physician will not be able to comply with your desires unless he has the original document.  Your attending physician will make the decision on whether you have reached the point that the Living Will becomes effective.  

Another document which people confuse with a Living Will is an Out Of Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate form.  The Out Of Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate form is separate from the Living Will.  The document is completed by individuals with their physician.  The document is a physician’s order authorizing medical care providers to allow a patient’s wishes not to be resuscitated in the out of hospital setting.  Under such document, patients will still receive comfort, care, including pain medication to make the patient as comfortable as possible.  It is not unusual for the patient to purchase a standard identifier, necklace or bracelet, which health care providers can easily recognize.

Living Wills and Out Of Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate orders are valuable documents and give an individual the comfort of knowing that his or her desires regarding life-sustaining procedures will be complied with.

Our office specializes in estate planning and we have the professional experience and skills to assure that your wishes regarding your care will be followed.

By – James D. Beatty