Living Wills Can Kill You


 Living Wills Can Kill You

WARNING: Do not read this article with your children present.

Have you ever heard of living wills? They are documents that people put together prior to the time they have a serious illness, or when they may need medical attention, and dictate what medical care should be done to them if they should become terminally ill. This document is then filed away in case the person dies and their condition changes suddenly.

This was all well and good for quite a few years until it became clear that too many patients who were sick enough to warrant such an end-of-life instruction were dying by the doctors just following through with their request for a living will. Hospitals were refusing to touch patients who had living wills because they didn't want to take the chance of having a doctor or staff member be held liable for wrongly killing him or her.

Fortunately, the courts stopped long enough to look at what was going on. The courts realized that these living wills were very dangerous documents that put doctors in the position of being forced by law to withhold medical treatment from people who needed it, and if they didn't do so, they were then open to lawsuits. So, now there are three documents that a person can file with their health insurance company before they become terminally ill. The first is called the advance directive. This authorizes doctors to do whatever they want to with this person in the event of their dying. The second is called the living will. This authorizes them to stop any treatment that might save their life, and if they ever come back from the dead, they can then decide what happens next.

The third is a document called a durable power of attorney for health care decision making. This authorizes another person who lives with them to make decisions on health care should they become terminally ill, and then either revoke that power or choose to not use it at all.

Unfortunately, all too few people have thought of putting one of these in place. So, as you can see, the problem is not going away, and even more tragically, it seems to be getting worse.

For years, we had hoped that we would have a generous and caring society that would stay out of our doctor's way as long as possible. We have been sorely disappointed. It seems that a living will or advance directive or other form of medical power is no longer just an option for a person to choose should they need it--it is now necessary to have such authority before you get sick enough to warrant it in order to be treated with respect and dignity.

It seems every day there is a new law being passed that gives doctors or hospitals the ability to keep someone alive who is already near death. One day it takes an act of God to save them, and the next, they are kept alive on machines that will cost them billions of dollars with no hope of recovery. It seems as if modern medicine has come to rely more and more on technology rather than on doctors' ability or desire to heal. I suspect that this reliance on technology results in far more people becoming disabled by medical treatment rather than dying from it.

I have a friend named Joe who was quite ill for quite a while as I write this article now. He is now well enough to return to work, and so he is happy and healthy. Still, he has no insurance and cannot afford to pay for his own treatment if he gets sick again. He has a chronic disease that will never be cured, so it makes no sense for him to have a medical power of attorney since the only use for it would be if he were to get into a car accident or fall down the stairs and break something.

The medical industry does not see it this way. They think that Joe is setting himself up for disaster by filing his own living will when they can simply follow it when he finally does get sick enough to die from his chronic disease. The medical industry and hospitals have a firm grip on their patients' necks, and they don't want to let go. If they realize that Joe could recover with or without treatment, then they would have to release him from his bondage to medical treatment. They are making sure that the end of Joe's disease is the end of his life.

The problem with this way of thinking should be obvious. It is just as likely that Joe will die by lethal injection as it is by slow suicide from death by disease. The difference could easily be a couple of years in either case. The outcome is the same. He dies. It is just that this two-year delay can cost him the money necessary to protect his family, not to mention the emotional trauma of watching his body slowly shut down while he drags around in pain for those last months of his life. And despite all that, there isn't a death certificate that states he was murdered by medical treatment.

A month ago, I went to visit Joe and found out from his neighbor that he was still alive. I then called another friend who often works with Joe and asked him if Joe had been dead or alive lately. I told him about my conversation with Joe's neighbor and asked him how long it had been since he last visited Joe. He said, "Just yesterday."

I then talked with my friend who works closely with Joe and asked him what his latest assessment of Joe was. He said, "He is doing great. He returned to work this week." I was shocked by the news. It seemed so unlikely that Joe would be home working and doing well just a day or two after he was pronounced dead by medical treatment. I asked him if Joe was doing well and going to be home for a long time. He said, "No. He's not going to make it."

I had noticed the news stories in the paper about how the medical industry had decided that it is too costly to treat terminally ill patients with new experimental medicines, so they are now routinely withholding them from people who have a serious illness. I asked my friend how it was that Joe received treatment that others with a chronic disease were denied? He said: "He was given an experimental medicine but refuses to take it. He chose instead to go back to work and live as normal as he can until he finally dies at home because no one is going to screw him over again.


There is no question that the medical industry has become rich and powerful by keeping people alive that should be dead. It is a terrible thing to witness, but there seems to be no alternative. We are deeply concerned that living wills have been rendered useless by the medical industry's treatment of so many patients. Drs. Hospitals and nurses have made it their goal to keep people alive as long as possible, even if they only can afford constant care at a high cost to their finances and emotional well-being in the process. This is a disgraceful piece of business for our once caring society.

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