Advance Medical Directives

I believe that everyone should have an Advance Medical Directive, what Virginia calls a living will.  This is a form document that is set out at Virginia Code §54.1-2984.  But there are a lot of different parts to it, and some choices that need to be made. I usually help people with Advance Medical Directives when I do their wills, though I can do them separately as well.

The most important part of any consideration of an Advance Medical Directive is actually not the paperwork; it is the discussion that you need to have with your family members.  Many prolonged court battles have turned on evidentiary questions like whether a brain dead person without a living will ever told their families something to the effect of “Don’t keep me alive on a respirator.”  If you have conversation with all of your family present to say, “If I am irreversibly brain-dead, let me die,” that wish could have been honored without having to go through a lengthy legal battle.

In short, a great deal of agonizing litigation can be avoided with an Advance Medical Directive.  But again, the document is not itself enough — it is important that you have a conversation with your family members about what is in the Advance Medical Directive.  It is important that your children hear from your own lips whether you want to be put on a respirator, or whether you want to receive artificial nutrition if you are in a coma.  If this conversation is held before there is a crisis, it can head off many later problems.