Q. Do I have the “right to die” once my body could only be kept alive by mechanical means?
A. Yes. Most states have enacted some form of legislation described as a “living will,” “natural death,” or “right to die” statute. The common element in these states is that if a doctor relies upon a written statement, properly executed, which states that a person does not wish his life sustained by artificial or mechanical means after his body reaches a medical level of being unable to support itself, then the doctor would be immune from accusations of criminal and/or unprofessional conduct for stopping treatment on the individual.
The most significant effect of a living will in states that have not passed right to die legislation would be that it would serve as a persuasive document directed toward the family and physician by expressing the person’s desires as to whether or not he wished to be mechanically supported when there was no hope of survival and the illness was terminal. In some cases, doctors may be liable for damages and costs when they expressly disregard a person’s wishes and continue extraordinary medical treatment against the patient’s wishes.
A living will can be useful for family members who may be in a dilemma as to what course of action they should take at a moment of crisis or decision-making. Written instructions as to death wishes ease the burden of family members and doctors.
A living will must have two or more witnesses and it should be notarized. If properly executed, it may be valid even if a person is declared incompetent, if the person was competent at its signing. Witnesses should be unrelated to the declarant and not a potential heir to the estate.
In states that recognize living wills, oral revocations as well as written revocations are recognized.
In summary, living wills are formally recognized in Washington. If one was in existence and a decision had to be made regarding extraordinary medical support or life-sustaining measures, including feeding and hydration tubes, such a document would be used by family and medical personnel to help in the decision-making process. Recent Washington law has expanded to include when death is imminent and the patient being in a vegetative or unconscious state. A living will should be considered as a supplement to your present will or trust and should be updated to show current intent at least every three years.
A Living Will is a document that allows you to provide instructions about medical treatment an the event of a truamatic injury or disease that affects your ability to make decisions for yourself. it is best done while you are in good health and can make the decision without the stresses of a final illness or injury.
While this is a relatively simple document specifically authorized by statute (RCW 70.122.030), it should be thoroughly reviewed and tailored to the specific desires of the individual.
A Health Care Directive should not be confused with a Physicians Order for Life Sustaining treatment, or POLST. A POLST is generated by a healthcare professional, usually a doctor, not by an Attorney. It is most appropriately completed when the end of life is near. The Healthcare Directive gives direction (and the Power of Attorney) gives authority) to the surrogate decision maker for input into the drafting and implementing of the POLST when the individual can no longer make those decisions independently.
Renée E. Stein can answer your questions about Living Wills and help you prepare one if you so desire.