The living will was first created in 1967 by Luis Kutner, the attorney who helped found Amnesty International.
Half a century later, there are living will laws in every state. But what do these documents do, and why do people need a living will? Gummer Elder Law has your answer.
What is a living will?
A living will allows you to outline your wishes on life support and long-term medical care if you are unable to communicate them yourself (incapacitated) . It becomes effective if you are incapacitated and in an end stage medical condition or in a permanent coma.
When you prepare a living will, you are saving your family from having to agonize over making life-support decisions, and debating with each other about what you would have wanted, and you can make sure your doctors understand your end-of-life wishes.
Anyone over 18 can – and should – create a living will, especially if:
- You are in declining health.
- You are facing surgery or hospitalization.
- You want to elect a specific person to make health care decisions for you.
- You have been diagnosed with a terminal condition.
- You want to be sure your wishes are carried out.
The History of Living Wills
Living wills can be general or specific. It’s better that you make them more specific. They are more effective when they include informed, detailed explanations of your wishes and values and goals.
A more general living will may create conflict and uncertainty among your loved ones, your health care providers and the person you’ve designated as your health care agent.
It’s that sort of uncertainty that led Kutner to set up the first living will 50 years ago. After seeing a close friend suffer through a long illness, he proposed a document that would allow people to express their wishes about receiving life support treatment.
Kutner’s work inspired Dr. Walter F. Sackett, who fought – without success – for legislation in Florida that allowed patients to choose whether to use life support equipment.
Meanwhile in California, legislator Barry Kenne was fighting for a similar bill, inspired by the plight of his terminally ill mother. She had been unable to limit her end-of-life-treatment, despite having a signed power of attorney. California eventually passed Keene’s bill in 1976, becoming the first state with a living will law.
Over the next few years, a pair of landmark court cases would change the national landscape as far as living wills were concerned.
In 1976, the New Jersey Supreme Court heard the case of Karen Ann Quinlan. She had gone into a persistent vegetative state at age 21 after a drug and alcohol overdose, and her father had fought to make decisions on her behalf. The court’s ruling in this case essentially established the ability to appoint a health care agent.
The second case, which went before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1990, involved Nancy Cruzan, who was left comatose after a car crash. The court’s ruling in this case established the right to execute a legally binding living will. Pennsylvania passed their living will law in 1992.
Living Wills in Bucks County
When they want to create a living will, Bucks County residents turn to the attorneys at Gummer Elder Law. Contact us today. Our team is ready to work with you to build a document that clearly outlines your wishes, leaving your family with less worry.