Why Are You at Risk if You Don’t Sign a Will to Live? — The Dangers in Current Legal Standards and Medical Practice

The following is taken from the article by Burke J. Balch, J.D. Director, NRLC Department of Medical Ethics (full text available from Arkansas Right to Life).

Today, any of us who might become unable to speak for ourselves because of an illness or the development of a disability is in very grave danger of being denied life-saving medical treatment and even food and fluids if we have not left precise instructions to the contrary.

Why? Because the last 25 years have seen the rapid acceptance of “surrogacy” — a legal term that covers the ability of another person to order the denial of treatment to someone who is incompetent but has left no clear description of wishes, theoretically on “behalf” of the incompetent patient.

The once-dominant view that the presumption is for life unless it is clear that the patient would have rejected treatment is now the law only in some circumstances in a very few states. The bottom line is that non-voluntary euthanasia, in the form of denial of life-saving medical treatment, food, and fluids to patients who cannot speak for themselves and have never expressed their wishes, is now the legal norm in most of this country.

The other side of the legal coin is that, to date, most of the court cases dealing with this area indicate that if the patient has expressed clear wishes, those wishes take precedence over what a surrogate might otherwise do. In short, from a legal perspective, if you do not make your own preferences clear, the odds are high that if you become incompetent someone else, whom you may not even know, will be able to cut off treatment, food, and fluids. On the other hand, setting down your desire to receive them in a legally binding advance directive like the Will to Live will go far to protect your right to do so.

These facts underline the need for you to prepare a Will to Live. You simply cannot assume that the typical physician in America today will automatically make or recommend the treatment decisions concerning your life that you would make, just as you cannot assume that the law, in its current state, will protect your life without clear evidence of your wishes. To assist you in providing clear health care instructions so that your life and health can be protected, National Right to Life has prepared a Will to Live document.

In Arkansas, the Will to Live may be prepared with or without the assistance of an attorney. For more information, contact Arkansas Right to Life for your free copy of the Will to Live. Do it today!