Living Will

This is a transcript of the video Living Will. This video is part of a five-part series that describes Advance Directives, which document your decisions about your medical care in the event that you cannot speak for yourself in the future.

Video: Living Will


Transcript: Living Will


A living will says almost what it is in its name. It’s a will for when you are living. Traditionally a will states your wishes after you have passed away. A living will states your wishes while you are still alive.

Rev. Dale Stanley, MDiv, BCC, Manager of Spiritual Care, Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus:

Fear is a big issue when you're talking about these subjects. And that's what we're here for. We want to be able to listen to you and to answer your questions and to reassure you that you're getting what you want. And Advance Directives are exactly the tool that helps us do that.

Stephen J. Evans, MD, Medical Director, Continuing Care:

The only way, typically, to honor a patient's wishes, to make sure that we treat them in a way that he or she would have wanted, is to have some of these documents, which help to take some of the emotion out of the decision making. We're no longer just listening to patients' families, who are upset at a sudden change, who want something done. I can't tell you how often I hear, "Do something. Do everything." We no longer have to deal with that kind of raw emotion. We've got something that is written down and we can say, "Look, your mom didn't want this. And we believe when she filled out this form that she knew what she was talking about. I think that the way we best treat her and respect her is to honor her wishes."

The ability to make that kind of a statement amidst a lot of upset often helps to bring the intensity of everybody's emotion down to a more manageable level, where reasonable decisions can be made.


Specifically, in New York State, it is an Advance Directive that lets you state your wishes about medical care if your ability to make decisions is hampered in some way.

The living will is you speaking for youself when you can’t because of a medical condition that might include something like a stroke, severe dementia or perhaps you are in a coma.

It starts as many wills do: “I being of sound mind make this statement, I direct my attending physician to withhold or withdraw treatment …..’

The living will describes how you want to live.

A living will cannot cover all possibilities. None of us can ever know what will happen. But, a living will does set down in writing what you want your medical care to be. So, different from the Health Care Proxy, this document presents, to quote New York State Law, "clear and convincing evidence of your wishes when you cannot speak for yourself..."

Does this document need to filled out by a lawyer? No, but it must be properly signed and witnessed.

Is it permanent? Again, no. You can change it at anytime.

Now, because a living will is what you want to happen, you can add "directives" such as "I want maximum pain medication," "I don’t want artificial hydration or nutrition," or "I want to receive the best care available at the best place."

Rev. Dale Stanley, MDiv, BCC, Manager of Spiritual Care, Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus:

I think the most important thing to keep in mind when we're talking about any of these subjects is the idea of hope. We never want to take hope away from a person. And hope changes its focus as it starts to unfold. If you don't have cancer, you hope you don't get cancer. If you do get cancer, you hope there's a cure for it. If the cure isn't really being as effective as you want it to be, then you hope that you can be kept comfortably. You hope that you can find meaning in the end and in the final moments.

The Advance Directives all serve the purpose of moving us forward without ever taking hope away.


It is also recommended that in the living will you say that it is your spokesperon, named in the Health Care Proxy, who will decide when to apply the living will. Because, logically, the living will is only in effect if you are unable to make your own decisions.

Of all the Advance Directive documents, the living will is the most flexible.