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Living wills not always understood in hospital setting

Floridians probably remember the great amount of media attention directed to the Terri Schiavo case in the early 2000s. This woman had lived in a near-vegetative state for years and her husband and parents disagreed over whether she should be kept alive by receiving nutrition through a feeding tube.

Her situation demonstrates the importance of individuals discussing their end-of-life preferences with family members. Individuals can create living wills or advance directives to clarify how they want doctors to approach treatment when they are close to death. Individuals can create specific directions for what should happen in various circumstances. For instance, one physician explains that a person may want to have a feeding tube, but not want mechanical respiration.

As one source reports, though, living wills and advance directives are not always clearly understood by healthcare professionals. Due to language in living wills and misunderstandings within the medical community about what a 'do not resuscitate' order or a living will actually mean, patients have received forms of medical treatment that they previously stated they did not want.

One physician states, "What matters most about end of life documents is the language in the orders." If the language is unclear, a person's preferences could be misunderstood and not followed. A person's decision about medical care at the end of life is important and very personal. To have another person guess how one wanted to be cared for would be unfortunate.

Again, to prevent misunderstandings, clearly written living wills are important. Seeking guidance from an estate planning attorney will likely simplify the process of writing a living will. Discussing concerns and preferences with one's attorney may ensure one's end-of-life preferences are communicated clearly.

Source: American Medical News, "Clearing up confusion on advance directives," Alicia Gallegos, Oct. 29, 2012

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