Living wills help families in difficult times

Special to the Herald-Leader,elaine greerJanuary 26, 2014 

With the coming of the new year, many of us are wrestling with resolutions or perhaps just taking care of some things that we have put on hold. Please add making a living will to your to-do list.

When we are patients and cannot make our own medical decisions, health care professionals look to others to make decisions for you. Those decisions can be excruciating for those close to the patient. In my years as a hospital chaplain, I have seen untold numbers of families literally torn apart because there was disagreement regarding the terminally ill loved one.

Each of us has the right to make decisions about our own health care. We have the right to request or refuse treatment and to ask that life-prolonging treatment be stopped. By filling out an advance directive, also known as a living will, we can make known what those decisions are.

When living wills exist, the family is not put in a position to make difficult decisions on behalf of their loved one, and they can be assured that their loved one's decisions are carried out.

Here are some important issues regarding the advance directive:

Any person age 18 or older who is competent to make their own decisions may complete an advance directive.

The advance directive must be completed by the person making the decision. A family member cannot sign an advance directive for another family member.

The advance directive must be notarized or signed by two witnesses who are not family members.

The advance directive is only used when the patient is no longer able to make decisions, when the patient has a terminal condition or becomes permanently unconscious.

No one is required to have an advance directive in order to receive health care services. However, Kentucky law requires that patients are asked whether they have a living will at every hospital admission.

The advance directive document allows you to name a "health care surrogate" to make health care decisions for you in accordance with your directive.

The advance directive is a powerful document that gives each person both the privilege and the power to direct their dying process. Please give some serious consideration to taking care of this very important part of your life plans. You will be giving your family a gift that only you can give.

Elaine F. Greer, director of Pastoral Care at Baptist Health Lexington, is one of a team of professionals who are authorized to assist patients in completing living wills.

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