Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Living Will

Ever since I attended a workshop on living wills two weeks ago, I have been slowly working on mine (a living will is a document that lets you decide whether or not to be kept on artificial life support and appoints someone to make health care decisions on your behalf if you're unable to do so).

This is the perfect task for me. It feeds my love of the macabre, my inner death wish, my fixation on details and my desire to be in control of my life. I have gone beyond the standard appointing of a Health Care Agent and clarifying what treatment I would and wouldn't want. I've even attached extra pages to my living will that give:

1. A list of people to be informed if I'm ever close to death.
2. What I want done to my body (donate, donate, donate!)
3. What I'd want posted on my blog.
4. A list of people to be invited to my memorial service.
5. My preferred music and readings for my memorial service.
6. How to distribute my possesions.

A friend of mine who's a nurse says she sees incapacitated people every day being put through various life saving techniques that feel like torture to them and it's because their loved ones feel too guilty to pull the plug. Agonizing over these decisions, a family will say that what happens in God's will, letting the person who is near death linger indefinitely and painfully. Avoid this nightmare by making decisions about your care and putting it in writing.

Aging With Dignity is an organization that has created a document called Five Wishes. The wishes in this living will refer to the following:

1. The person I want to make health care decisions for me when I can't (my "Health Care Agent").
2. The kind of medical treatment I want or don't want.
3. How comfortable I want to be.
4. How I want people to treat me.
5. What I want my loved ones to know.

Each section contains statements such as "I wish to have people with me when possible. I want someone to be with me when it seems that death may come at any time." If you agree with the statement, you do nothing to it. If you don't agree with it, you cross it out and it won't be followed (I don't agree with this statement, so I crossed it out). It's an excellent document and makes creating your living will easy. You just change or add anything you want. After I finish tailoring it for my preferences, I'll sign it in the presence of two witnesses (who also sign it) and distribute copies of it to my doctor and the people involved (some states require that it be notarized, but not Illinois). Each year (maybe at the new year) I'll review it and revise it. It's not written in stone. I can update it at any time, specifying that the version with the latest revision date be the valid one.

To order copies of Five Wishes, go to the Aging With Dignity website or call 1-888-594-7437.

Anyone who has ever had to make life or death decisions for someone else, without any idea of what that person would want, understands why a living will is critical. If our culture weren't so squeamish about death, it would be so much easier to handle. BE BRAVE: MAKE A LIVING WILL.

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