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Will to Live, NOT Living Will.

Some may ask if it is acceptable to sign a “Living Will.”  Obviously, we cannot predict the future, or know in advance what form of sickness or disease we may be afflicted with in the years ahead. We do not know what treatments we will need or what will be available.

The making of a "Living Will" presupposes that we know what kind of medical treatments we will want to use or avoid in the future. It speaks about treatments before we even know the disease; it turns a future option into a present decision.

Not every medical treatment is always obligatory. But to figure out which treatments are obligatory, morally speaking, and which are only optional, one must know the medical facts of the case. These facts are then examined in the light of the moral principles involved. But to try to make that decision in advance is to act without all the necessary information. Moreover, to make that decision legally binding by means of a formal document is really putting the cart before the horse. It is not morally justified. Living Wills are both unnecessary and dangerous.

Living Wills are also unnecessary because they propose to give rights which patients and doctors already possess. People already have the right to make informed consent decisions telling their family and physicians how they want to be treated if and when they can no longer make decisions for themselves. Doctors are already free to withhold or withdraw useless procedures in terminal cases that provide no benefit to the patient. Some people fear that medical technology will be used to torture them in their final days. But it is more likely that the 'medical heroics' people fear are the very treatments that will make possible a more comfortable, less painful death.

Moreover, if the living will indicates one does not want "to be kept alive by medications" or "artificial means" what does that mean? An aspirin is "medication," is it not? Drinking through a straw is "artificial." People can construe meanings for these words which the signer of the document never intended.

There are alternatives to a Living Will.  A safer route is to appoint a health care proxy who can speak for you in those cases where you may not be able to speak for yourself. This should be a person who knows your beliefs and values, and with whom you discuss these matters in detail. In case you cannot speak for yourself, your proxy can ask all the necessary questions of your doctors and clergy, and make an assessment when all the details of your condition and medical needs are actually known. That's much safer than predicting the future. Appointing a health care proxy in a way that safeguards your right to life is easy.

Some are worried that they will have all kinds of treatment they don't want. But in the current climate, you are more at risk of the opposite, as more and more hospitals are refusing life-saving treatment to people who want it. Because of this, more and more people are signing documents, called the "Will to Live," that expressly indicate their desire for life-saving treatment, should the need arise.

The Will to Live project is sponsored by the National Right to Life Committee.  Find more information at www.nrlc.org/medethics/willtolive

Listen to a homily by Fr. Frank Pavone on the dangers of a Living Will by clicking here.

During the Terri Schiavo tragedy, the National Association of Pro-life Nurses, issued a statement on the harms of a Living Will.  Read their words at www.priestsforlife.org/euthanasia/prolifenurses.htm.

Additional information can also be found at the National Catholic Bioethics Center at www.ncbcenter.org.

 

 

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