The Will to Live is a legal document that you can sign which:
1) names someone to make health care decisions for you (your “health care agent”) if you develop a condition that makes it impossible for you to speak for yourself (become “incompetent”), and
2) makes clear (in the form of written instructions to your health care agent) what medical treatment you would want if you can no longer speak for yourself.
To lessen the real and growing danger that you may be starved or denied necessary medical treatment when you cannot speak for yourself. It used to be that most doctors, believing in the Hippocratic Oath, generally saw their purpose as saving life. Today, however, many doctors accept a “quality of life” ethic. If they believe someone will have disabilities that make that person’s life have too poor a quality, they will do everything they can to deny life-saving treatment and even food and water so the person will die. Today, also, the courts and laws of most states, instead of recognizing a presumption for life, have in effect created a presumption for death for people who cannot speak for themselves when they have significant disabilities. By signing a Will to Live you help to protect your own life by making clear that you would want food and water and would want life-saving treatment except in the circumstances you yourself specify.
The Will to Live will protect you from being denied life-saving medical treatment (and even food and water) in these circumstances. At the same time, the “Will to Live” would allow you, if you wish, to reject treatment that would just prolong your life briefly if you are about to die. It allows you to state exactly what you would not want.
In almost all states the law, as established by the courts or the legislature, allows someone else to cut off your medical treatment, as well as “artificially” provided food and water, if you cannot speak for yourself and have left no clear expression of your wishes.
Without a Will to Live, if you become “incompetent,” no longer able to speak for yourself, even if your doctor knew your wishes he or she could be overruled by a relative. Remember, also, that you never know whether the doctor you trust will be the one treating you when the decisions about treatment are made. Usually, the doctors treating you when the decision is made will be specialists, not your regular family doctor. You could be on a trip, and have to be rushed to an unfamiliar emergency room. Your own doctor could be on vacation. And since this document might not be used until years from now, by that time the doctor you know and trust may have retired or moved away. A Will to Live will help protect you, whoever the doctor treating you may be.
Having a Will to Live that specifically designates someone you trust to make health care decisions for you, and going on clearly to describe the treatment you want ensured, will greatly strengthen the hands of those who battle to save your life when you are not able to speak for yourself.
The unfortunate fact is that when you cannot defend your own rights, it is relatively easy for medical personnel to ignore directions you have put down on paper unless there is somebody with the authority and willingness to fight to make sure your wishes are followed. By naming someone you trust to be your “health care agent” when you cannot speak for yourself, you increase the chance that your wish for treatment, food and water will be followed. Both parts are important: You should name somebody as your health care agent, to make it more likely your written wishes will be followed. And you should put down your written wishes, to make it more likely your agent’s statements about what you would have wanted are not questioned and challenged. The Will to Live provides for both.
The person you name as your health care agent may be on a trip when decisions have to be made. Or–if, for example, you have named your spouse–the agent might be in the same accident that causes your own disability. That is why the Will to Live allows you to name alternate agents to serve if the primary person you name is unable or unwilling to serve.
A Will to Life document has been prepared for each state to comply with the differing requirements of each state’s laws, such as the number of witnesses required, with the help of an attorney licensed to practice in that state. You can obtain a copy of the Will to Live form from Arkansas Right to Life. Or you can use the Internet. If you don’t have Internet access, you can get access for free at most public libraries. If you’re uncomfortable using a computer, ask a relative or friend to do it for you. Finally, tell your family and physicians that you have a Will to Live.