The purpose of a Living Will is to provide an incompetent person with a means of having their health care decisions accepted. It is used when the incompetent person is in either a terminal or permanently unconscious condition. The Living Will defines which life sustaining treatments they do or do not wish to have performed on them to prolong the dying process.

A terminal condition is defined as a person with an incurable or irreversible medical condition which, in the opinion of the attending physician, will result in death in a relatively short time.

To be permanently unconscious is to be in an irreversible condition, which lasts indefinitely without change, in which thought, feeling, sensations, and awareness of self and environment are absent. It requires consultation with another qualified physician who has examined the patient and deems the patient to be in a condition of permanent unconsciousness for this statute to apply.

If the patient is not in a terminal condition or permanently unconscious then beneficial medical treatment, nutrition, and hydration must be provided.

A licensed physician or licensed medical facility may remove or withhold a life support system of an incompetent patient without being subject to civil action or criminal prosecution if the attending physician:

1. Bases his or her decision on his or her best medical judgment.

2. Deems the patient to be in a terminal condition or, after consultation with another qualified physician who has examined the patient and concurs, is in a permanently unconscious condition and not pregnant.

3. Takes into consideration the patient's wishes.

4. Notify the patient's health care designee, next of kin, legal guardian or conservator within a reasonable time prior to taking such action.

A patient's best wishes are expressed, in order of priority, by:

1. Patient directly to attending physician, or

2. A properly executed Living Will, containing a written statement of the wishes of the patient, that is presented to, or in the possession of the attending physician at the time the decision to withhold or terminate a life support system is made, or

3. The patient's health care designee, or

4. The patient's conservator or legal guardian, or

5. The patient's next kin, acting in good faith.

We recommend clients make an appointment with his or her primary doctor to discuss his or her health care decisions and to place the properly executed Living Will in the client's file with their primary doctor. In the case of a medical emergency the primary doctor will usually be contacted so that the client's wishes can easily be made known. You should also carry a copy of your Living Will with you and give a copy to all those selected to be your health care designee.

Disputes concerning a patient's wishes and interpretations of Connecticut's Living Will statute are decided by the Probate Court.

Failure to execute a living will document creates no presumption that life supporting systems should be used to prolong the dying process of an incompetent patient. The courts have traditionally not upheld living wills unless expressed in a recent and specific written document that is properly witnessed. It is important to retain a lawyer in preparing a Living Will to be certain your wishes are followed.

A Physician or Health Care Provider who is unwilling to comply with the wishes of the patient must transfer care of the patient to a Physician or Health Care Provider who is willing to so comply.

Living will or declaration of such may be revoked at any time or in any manner. Simply raising your hand as the medical staff attempts to remove life support could be interpreted as a revocation of your Living Will depending on the circumstances.

Under Connecticut's statutes Hydration and Nutrition may also be withheld or withdrawn.

TO INSURE YOUR WISHES ARE FOLLOWED:

1. Discuss with your doctor whether:

(a) The doctor has a personal conflict with honoring the patient's wishes.

(b) The doctor understands what life supporting methods you do not wish to be performed or applied.

2. You should document your wishes in a living will and update the document with a new signature, date, and witnesses again upon entering the hospital for any treatment.

This office recommends that clients get a complete a estate package, which should include his or her Will, Living Will, Voluntary Appointment of Conservator, and a Power of Attorney. These are documents that your attorney can explain to you.

Beware of standardized forms in preparing your health care and estate issues. Each state has its own rules and requirements that must be met to make the document effective. A properly trained attorney can make sure your wishes are documented properly and followed.

Action is better than inaction in insuring your health care decisions. Federal law has determined that your failure to execute a Living Will equals your decision not to have one.