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Living will


Imagine someone you love...better yet, imagine yourself lying in a hospital bed oblivious to the world around you, unable to move or show any signs of life, your own existence controlled by an I.V., a respiratory machine, and a feeding tube. In essence you are dead. Your body is no longer able to sustain life, its entire purpose is now replaced by a machine - you are being kept alive by artificial means. At this point the question arises - should you be kept alive by these means or should you be allowed to die a natural death? Unfortunately you are unable to answer this question because your voice is limited to a "beep" on a heart monitor machine. Who then is going to decide if you live artificially or die naturally? Who gets to play God? Well, if your family doesn't have your written consent in the form of a living will, to cease life support, then the doctor will make the ultimate decision for both you and your family.

Most often this is the case. Even though writing a living will is just as easy if not easier than writing a death will, many people don't take the time to do so. Therefore, doctors have to debate the question of euthanasia - a question that each one of us should ponder long before we are put in this situation.

What is euthanasia? Euthanasia is not mercy killing. It has absolutely nothing to do with killing. On the contrary, euthanasia by definition simply means "good death" and in the applied sense it refers to "the patients own natural death without prolonging their dying process unduly." What this attempts to accomplish is to allow a person to die with peace and dignity. In most cases life-support systems simply prolong the terminal suffering of a patient by a few more weeks or months, they do nothing to return a patient to a normal functioning human being. With most terminally ill patients life support does not mean prolonging life - it means prolonging suffering, for both the patient and their family.

Although there are no statutes legalizing euthanasia in the U.S. many doctors end a terminal patients life by administering a fatal dose of a drug that they were previously administering. Furthermore, most hospitals knowing that there is little or no hope for a terminal patient, provide less than adequate attention and care to them.

A living will makes the possibility of this entire situation virtually non-existent. A living will is the patient's written request not the doctor's decision, not to be placed on life-support systems, and this request must be honored by the doctor. Just as property is proportionated to those named in a person's death will, so must their requests be recognized in a living will.

If a person has a living will written then if it is so stated, they will not be placed on life-support. Instead, they will either stay in the hospital or be sent home so that their body will be allowed to take the natural course it has begun. If a body, nature, God, or who-be-it, has decided that it is a person's "time" then who are we to say that it isn't? Obviously, we are in neither a spiritual nor a moral position to make this decision. Therefore, we should not implement artificial life-support methods to either prevent or delay the body's natural degenerative process. Instead, we should face and overcome our own fears and internal conflicts with death. And one way to do this is by writing a living will.

Living wills help medical staff and others to make decisions about your care and treatment should you become seriously ill and unable to speak for yourself. In some circumstances, living wills may become legally binding on health care staff. Living wills are considered clear and convincing evidence of a person's preferences for end-of-life treatment (see attached forms).


From the advent of medicine the ultimate goal for physicians was to maintain life. The death of a patient became a sign of a physician's defeat, the prolonging of life a sign of his or her ability. Although this philosophy still continues new variables were added to the equation in the 1960s.

During this decade modern technology began to produce machines such a lung and heart machines capable of taking over normal body functions for long periods of time. These machines were intended for temporary use until the normal organ function could be restored and the patient could return to normal life. But the machines also created two problems.

First, because prolonging life became an end in itself, some physicians employed these machines even in situations in which there was no hope of the patient ever returning to a meaningful life.

Second, even those physicians who avoided unwarranted use of the machines found that emergency circumstances often required the immediate use of such machines when the doctors were unable to determine the potential for a return to meaningful life. When time proved the patient would not get better, the machines, already in use, were difficult to disconnect.


The case the brought attention to the need for Living Wills occurred in 1976. Karen Quinlan, a young woman whose brain had been severely injured leaving her in a coma, had been maintained on an artificial respirator for one year. Her parents asked a judge of the New Jersey court to allow them to order her respirator removed.

Amid media headlines and passionate debate across the country, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that Karen Quinlan was unable to comprehend her situation or have a voice in the decision. The court allowed her parents, as her closest living relatives, to make the decision for her. Thus began the evolution of the modern legal concept of the right of self-determination in health care.


Even though most of us try to avoid the fact that we are going to die, it is an inevitable fact and we must all plan for the future abidingly. Therefore, each and everyone of us should seriously consider writing a living will. By doing so you will minimize both the financial and the mental pain and suffering both you and your families may encounter. Furthermore, you will ensure that you and not your doctor makes the most important decision of your life - whether or not to die. Unfortunately, death is a part of life and just as we strive to live with honor, we must also strive to die with dignity.

Source: Essay UK -

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