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
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
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
Order your Will to Live at the Priests for Life online store
The Will to Live project is sponsored by the National Right to Life
Committee. Find more information at
Listen to a homily by Fr. Frank Pavone on the dangers of a Living Will by
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
Additional information can also be found at the National Catholic Bioethics