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living will

living will or advance health care directive, legal document in which a person expresses in advance his or her wishes concerning the use of artificial life support and other medical treatment should the person be unable to communicate such wishes due the effects of illness, injury, or another cause of incapacity. A living will usually goes into effect only when two physicians certify that a patient is unable to make medical decisions and that the patient's medical circumstances are within the guidelines specified by the state's living-will law. Typically, living wills are used to direct loved ones and doctors to follow a specific course of treatment and care, such as discontinuing life-sustaining measures such as intravenous feeding, mechanical respirators, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation that the patient would reject were he or she able. Without clear and convincing evidence of a person's wishes (such as a living will), life support may be continued indefinitely because of hospital policies, fear of liability, or a doctor's moral beliefs, even if the family believes the patient's wishes would be otherwise. Living wills are often used in conjunction with a health-care proxy, which authorizes a previously chosen person to make health-care decisions in the event of incapacity. Most states and many countries have legislation authorizing living wills. See also euthanasia.

See publications of Choice in Dying.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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