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A living will (also known as a “medical directive” or “advance healthcare directive”) dictates whether or not you want artificial or extraordinary life-sustaining procedures performed in the event that certain, limited, end-of-life situations occur. These situations refer to the event that you are (1) diagnosed with an end-stage medical condition or a permanent state of unconsciousness and (2) unable to express your desires regarding treatment. In these situations, a living will ensures that your wishes are carried out even when you are unable to speak for yourself.  This protects your interest in controlling your medical care and ultimately relieves those you love from having to make very difficult and emotional end-of-life decisions for you.

When does a living will become effective? Under Pennsylvania statute, a living will only becomes effective when the attending physician determines (and certifies in writing) that you are incompetent and have an end-stage medical condition or are permanently unconscious. The key terms have been defined by statute and are summarized below.  Unless these conditions apply, a living will has no effect.

End-Stage Medical Condition: An incurable and irreversible medical condition in an advanced state that will, in the opinion of the attending physician to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, result in death, despite the introduction or continuation of medical treatment.

Permanent State of Unconsciousness: A medical condition that has been diagnosed with reasonable medical certainty as total and irreversible loss of consciousness and capacity for interaction with the environment. This term includes irreversible vegetative states and irreversible coma.

Incompetent: Being unable to comprehend the potential material benefits, risks and alternatives involved in a specific proposed healthcare decision or being unable to make or communicate that health care decision on one’s own behalf.

What constitutes artificial or extraordinary life-sustaining treatment? These procedures commonly include, but are not limited to, artificial feeding or hydration, mechanical breathing, cardiac resuscitation, or invasive emergency surgery. In creating a living will, you can determine which of these treatments you desire and which you would like to forgo. Generally, in circumstances where a living will is effective, it will limit treatment to measures designed to keep you comfortable and to relieve pain.

Is a living will the same as a medical power of attorney? No. A living will and a medical power of attorney are distinct documents that serve different purposes. A living will only concerns the use of artificial life-sustaining measures in limited end of life circumstances. A medical power of attorney, on the other hand, gives the person of your choosing authority to make decisions concerning your medical care in all other situations where you are unable to speak for yourself.

If you or a loved one is in need of assistance in creating a living will, call Keen Keen & Good at 610-383-7810 today or fill out the intake form to the right. Our estate planning attorneys can help you determine the scope of your directive, including what medical procedures you do or do not desire, and execute the documents necessary to accomplish these goals.

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