In End-of-Life Circumstances, a Living Will Allows You to Control What Medical Care You Receive.
Carolina recognizes an individual’s right to experience a peaceful and
natural death, and to control decisions relating to one’s own medical
care. Such control includes decisions to receive or refuse
life-prolonging measures. The best way to exercise these rights is
to state your wishes in a document titled Advance Directive for a Natural Death (“Living Will”)
Living Wills afford you the opportunity to express what medical treatment you want to receive -- or not receive -- in any of the following situations:
specific instructions regarding receipt of “life-prolonging measures”
can include mandatory delivery or withholding of such measures, or more
detailed specific instructions. A
“life-prolonging measure” is a medical procedure or intervention that
serves to postpone death without any expectation of curing or reversing
the underlying medical condition. Examples of such measures include mechanical ventilation, artificial nutrition and hydration, and similar forms of treatment.
- you have an incurable or irreversible condition that will cause death in a relatively short period of time;
- you become unconscious and, to a high degree of medical certainty, will never regain consciousness; or
suffer advanced dementia or any other condition resulting in the
substantial loss of cognitive ability that, to a high degree of medical
certainty, is not reversible.
A licensed physician is the only person who can supervise and implement the instructions in a Living Will. Before the doctor acts, however, a second physician must confirm the patient’s medical condition.
Although a Living Will can be a “stand-alone” document, it may also be written to work with, or actually be a component of, a more general Health Care Power of Attorney
document such that your designated health care agent can communicate
and interpret your stated wishes if you are unable to do so.
There is no exclusive document or procedure for making a Living Will,
but it is advisable not to deviate too far from North Carolina's
statutory form requirements for fear that your physicians may be
reluctant to follow a different document, or an important provision is
inadvertently omitted. Military advanced directives are valid in
Because there are detailed requirements for the signing, witnessing, and notarizing of a Living Will, it is also a good idea to execute your Living Will under the supervision of someone with training and experience in their execution.
You may revoke the directions in a Living Will in writing or in any other clear communication.
In the absence of a Living Will, it is still
possible to withhold life-prolonging measures when a person has one of
the three end-of-life medical conditions (as confirmed by two doctors),
but it potentially requires the patient’s doctor to consult with the
patient’s court appointed guardian, designated health care agent,
attorney-in-fact, spouse, parents, children, and siblings. Because
the consultation process can lead to disagreements and uncertainty, the
best approach is to state your wishes in a Living Will that you share with your family and physicians.
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